Bryan Caplan  

Intelligence Squared Debate: Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere

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I am pleased to announce that on October 30, I will be debating before Intelligence Squared.  The resolution: "Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere."  The teams: Vivek Wadhwa and me for the resolution, Ron Unz and TBD against.

The event is live-streamed, but I hope to see each and every one of you in New York City.



COMMENTS (21 to date)
Emily writes:

Is there something special about being able to take a job anywhere compared to other exchanges that are prohibited or made more difficult by immigration laws? Why isn't this just "live anywhere"? Does someone think people shouldn't be able to buy houses or rent apartments anywhere (in the absence of being employed in that area) but that they should be able to take jobs anywhere? What would the justification for that be? (If it's "being able to take care of yourself financially," the person with significant wealth but no job does better on that than the person with no wealth and a low-wage job.)

chris writes:

sorry this is off topic. when you say there is a strong moral presumption against taxation why do you take that as a foundation? i could say there is a strong presumption in favor of redistribution because of the common sense case of someone with a lot being burdened some small amount by losing some of what they have and someone else gaining a large amount by being given that amount. if i pick a different common sense foundation than your common sense foundation the results are different but still logical.

MikeP writes:

I hope to see each and every one of you in New York City.

That's a perfect location. If there is any place that disproves the resolution "Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere," it's Manhattan.

With the highest per capita income of any county in the nation, Manhattan would be hopelessly overrun if it didn't have strong laws and tight quotas restricting immigration from the rest of the US to it.

Handle writes:

Can I apply to be the TBD?

Daniel Kuehn writes:

Vivek?!?

That's an odd partner.

He has a tendency to want to privilege well educated immigrants and if someone says that such access shouldn't be limited based on education levels, he calls them xenophobic or anti-progress.

He's pro-immigration in a very narrow sense but Vivek is not the first person I think of when I think about open borders.

Emily writes:

To continue harping on why this disagreement would be better characterized as "let anyone live anywhere", does the pro side here think that people who take that job anywhere should be deported if they lose or quit that job without having another one? Should they be deported after they retire? Do they think that the spouses and minor children shouldn't be allowed to follow their relative to the place of their new job?

It is theoretically possible to envision a change in laws that's best described as "people being allowed to take a job anywhere," but it'd be awfully strange. If what the pro side has in mind instead involves letting people move to engage in non-job types of commerce, letting people continue to live in a place even if they're no longer working, and letting people bring over their families, this is much closer to "let anyone live anywhere."

MikeP writes:

I think what the resolution writers have in mind with "Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere" is that historically the principal reason for immigration restrictions is raw protectionism.

Hence if the big fear of "They took our jobs!" is resolved, then "Let Anyone Live Anywhere" will quickly follow.

NZ writes:

@Emily:

I've had similar issues in the past with the phrasings IQ2 uses for some of their motions. I.e. the exact wording ends up becoming something one team keeps reminding the other team of because it helps them make their point, even though the other team has a valid argument against that point when the motion is understood more generally.

MikeP has sort of sniffed out the problem with this one, because if you try other sound arguments against immigration which simply don't have much/anything to do with employment, the pro- side can more or less discount those arguments from the record for being off topic.

For instance, I know that even if not a single native worker was displaced by immigrants, there would still be other rational reasons people could give for opposing immigration.

Julien Couvreur writes:

Nice, I look forward to this debate.

I'm assuming your going in with your 3 step game plan (presumption of liberty unless massive harm, clearly no massive harm), as you did in a recent debate I saw on youtube.

For me, the counter-argument which is the hardest to un-root is that the country is like private property and there is no right for people to enter. Just like a mall owner can set rules on who can come in, or work there, or what they should wear, "we" get to set rules on who gets to come in the country.

This argument feeds on a deep belief system and is personalized with different flavors, so it is hard to address in a one-size-fits-all answer and limited time.
You may be able to convince people that marginally more immigration and a bit freer flow of labor is beneficial, but it will be hard to sway people on the categorical point (open borders) without butting against the notion that government is voluntary.

MikeP writes:

For me, the counter-argument which is the hardest to un-root is that the country is like private property and there is no right for people to enter.

Actually, this counter-argument faces the problem of destroying the analogue in order to use it.

There are effectively no private property rights if they can be trumped by the government that claims dominion of the territory the property is in. Yet that is exactly what the government does when it prohibits a property owner from having a visitor on his property based solely on where the visitor was born.

Property under this paradigm is simply a subdivision of the dominion as a whole that the government permits you to use under its terms. As such it does not at all provide the foundation that this argument requires.

NZ writes:

@MikeP:

This is a tangent, and I don't have a strong opinion one way or another, I just want to explore the issue a bit. You said:

There are effectively no private property rights if they can be trumped by the government that claims dominion of the territory the property is in.

Imagine you own and live in a house on a 100 acre ranch just south of San Diego. One day the U.S. government declares that our southern border is to move 50 miles north, effective immediately. Your house is now no longer within the territory of the United States. You are an autonomous person living outside of any country, on a small piece of land you have all your life understood to be yours.

You can now hire anyone you like to work on your ranch, since there is no government there to stop you with silly immigration laws. Indeed, you can do all kinds of things that the U.S. government would not have allowed. You go to sleep happy that night, feeling empowered at finally having full dominion over your property. Freedom at last!

The next day, a bunch of guys with machine guns and bandanas park their pickup trucks on your land and kick their feet up on your living room couch, helping themselves to whatever's in your fridge.

You get your shotgun and tell them to get out of your house.

"Why should I get out of my own house?" the leader asks you.

After a bewildering exchange, you go and get the deed and show it to him. He looks at it and asks what authority backs it up. Ultimately, you must concede that authority is the U.S. government.

"You're not in the US. The US government has no jurisdiction here."

"Fine," you say, pumping your shotgun. "Then the authority is that of nature. I put my labor and time into this land. I paid for it with wages earned from my efforts. By every decent system known to man, this is my rightful property. Get out or I'll fire upon you."

The bandana-clad leader laughs and says "By the system known to me, this is my rightful property. Me and my boys drove all the way here in the hot sun, and we put effort into getting this place they way we'd get any other. I've been gracious in letting you stay this long, but my patience is wearing thin." On cue, the other guys all turn and aim their guns at you.

So, what happens now? Who's right? How is the situation resolved? What can we learn from it?

MikeP writes:

You can learn that there are effectively no private property rights if they can be trumped by the government that claims dominion of the territory the property is in.

This new body politic that occupied your house claims dominion over your property and abrogates your individual property rights. That they are even less protective of your individual rights than the US government doesn't change the essentials.

NZ writes:

So, outside of some body politic trumping them--whether it be a government or a group of gunslinging banditos--what property rights can be said to effectively exist?

Does might, in the end, make right after all? Is it then simply a matter of opting for the most benevolent might available--and hoping they stay mighty enough to deter others with might who are less benevolent?

MikeP writes:

I believe that property rights -- and individual rights in general -- exist whether or not they are recognized by bandits or by governments. Consequently I do not believe that might makes right, although might does make what happens. So it is "simply" a matter of trying to convince might to secure what is right.

In contrast, those who argue that government accrues the right to prohibit people from entering a individual's property or the rights of way that access that property because that individual has the right to prohibit people from entering his own property really do believe that might makes right.

NZ writes:

MikeP:

So, you believe in a reality in which property rights objectively exist regardless whether they are recognized, but you concede that "what happens" (i.e. the consequence) depends on whether these rights are secured by the mighty.

A right which is recognized but not secured will therefore have the same consequence as a right which is neither recognized nor secured--i.e. something that isn't really a right at all. Since objective truth is determined by consequences, recognized rights can be distinguished from phoney-rights only subjectively.

This is complicated by the fact that some phoney-rights are secured as if they are real rights. Would you agree?

Doesn't that mean that, in consequence, might indeed makes right after all?

MikeP writes:

Since objective truth is determined by consequences...

That premise is not at all true.

Doesn't that mean that, in consequence, might indeed makes right after all?

No. Might makes consequences. Might does not make right.

All these debates come down to one conclusion: People either believe in individual rights or they believe in might makes right. There is no middle ground. The space between those two positions comprises nothing but a landscape in which might decides what the individual rights are, and hence it must be ceded entirely to the might makes right contingent.

Handle writes:

@MikeP: NZ is just trying to get you to admit that the idea of 'rights' is made up; a secular mythology.

And that whether this ideology has a lot of adherents, or that widespread belief in and compliance with the system has psychologically and socially positive consequences, has no bearing on whether is has any scientific-type truth-value to it - which, duh, it doesn't.

You could say the same things for any kind of religion; the centrality or not of any supernatural divine element is inconsequential to the analysis. You might as well be trying to convince someone that Veganism is 'true' - it has no truth outside of human preferences.

It's one thing to live with a Vegan who has made a choice conform his own behavior to his opinions. It's another thing to live with a Vegan who won't hear dissent from the notion that Veganism has always been objectively true for everyone everywhere and should be enforced by whatever means necessary and practicable.

@NZ: Likewise, you might as well try to logically talk someone out of their faith, which usually just ends up irritating them. We don't have the equivalent of a flying spaghetti monster parody of the theological nature of cosmically-grounded humanism, but there definitely ought to be one.

MikeP writes:

For the record, I do not believe that individual rights are metaphysically absolute. Rather, they are simply generally true precepts derived from consequentialist arguments.

But, fundamentally, there is a vast distinction between the once self-evident view that governments are instituted to secure individuals' unalienable rights and the perpetually alternative view that government has supreme authority to decide individuals' privileges and responsibilities.

In the former, someone must justify, say, government restrictions on immigration starting with a premise that people have the same rights regardless of where they happened to have been born. In the latter, someone can justify government restrictions on immigration based on the observation that the government allows a citizen to restrict access to his own property.

NZ writes:

@MikeP:

Supreme authority may be irrelevant when considered next to supreme ability.

That said, I think your delineation of those two alternative views is logical. I'm just not sure I've ever heard them actually used to defend restrictions on immigration.

If someone says "Governments can restrict immigration because that's simply part of the range of powers we understand governments to have," I think that's a bit different than "Governments can restrict immigration because they also secure private property."

Are you arguing that defenders of immigration restriction ought not to invoke the authority of governments to keep out immigrants, and that instead they ought to simply observe that if governments are able to restrict immigration, then they may? If so, I'd probably agree with that.

After all, a hypothetical individual with enough firepower to protect his own property from anyone in perpetuity needs no government to secure his property rights for him.

MikeP writes:

Are you arguing that defenders of immigration restriction ought not to invoke the authority of governments to keep out immigrants, and that instead they ought to simply observe that if governments are able to restrict immigration, then they may?

I am arguing that defenders of immigration restriction should not try to draw analogies between individual rights of property and government authorities over territory. It is nothing but an attempt to use the language of property rights while disposing of the concept.

If so, I'd probably agree with that.

I trust you recognize the volumes of horrors throughout history that could be justified with exactly the same argument.

NZ writes:

I am arguing that defenders of immigration restriction should not try to draw analogies between individual rights of property and government authorities over territory. It is nothing but an attempt to use the language of property rights while disposing of the concept.

Yeah, I think I agree.

I trust you recognize the volumes of horrors throughout history that could be justified with exactly the same argument.

Something I've come to realize lately is that just because one person uses a concept to justify something horrible doesn't mean another person should avoid that same concept. My brother refuses to acknowledge a link between race and average differences in IQ because he believes it could (or inevitably will) lead to people being put on trains.

So, it's possible to take "might makes right" and wind up committing horrible atrocities with it, but on the other hand my experience tells me that it's possible to enumerate a limited set of rights--and they can be derived arbitrarily from complex circumstances or linearly from one central right, but the point is they remain limited--and use might to secure them without extending might past those bounds. Yes, aberrations and abuses will occur, but I think some groups of people are capable of keeping these to a minimum, primarily because they've figured out they have an interest in doing so.

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