Bryan Caplan  

Sympathy for the Citizenist

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Citizenists strike me as extraordinarily angry people.  But I have to admit: If I were them, I'd be angry too. 

Consider their intellectual situation: Every orthodox moral theory - utilitarianism, Kantianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, wealth maximization, Rawlsianism, Christianity, and Marxism for starters - straightforwardly endorses open borders, or something close.  Yet almost everyone in the First World strongly opposes this policy.  The moral theory of citizenism, in contrast, does not straightforwardly endorse open borders.  Indeed, combined with suitably misanthropic descriptive views, citizenism handily justifies the strict immigration restrictions that most First Worlders know and love.

So why the anger?  Because even though people love the implications of citizenism, they wince at the doctrine itself, and stigmatize its adherents.  Adherents of orthodox moral theories, in contrast, enjoy respect and approbation.  Americans in particular want to have their cake and eat it, too.  They certainly don't want their country "invaded" by Latin American immigration.  But when a citizenist articulately justifies their anxiety, the typical American feels like the citizenist is too racist to acknowledge, much less endorse.

Think about it like this: Steve Sailer's policy views are much closer to the typical American's than mine.  Compared to me, he's virtually normal.  But the mainstream media is very sweet to me, and treats Steve like a pariah.  I have to admit, it's bizarre.

Still, if I were a citizenist, I wouldn't be that angry.  Relative to the open borders alternative, the U.S. border is already virtually closed.  (Disagree?  Tell me what annual immigration would be under open borders, and compare this to what we currently get).  If I were a citizenist, I'd be grateful that the status quo approximately equals my favorite policy.  Sure, it's frustrating when people flip out at you for forthrightly justifying the policies they already support.  But what's more important: Getting the respect you feel you deserve, or getting the policies you think are morally right? 



COMMENTS (99 to date)

And relative to existing alternatives, i.e., borders of other countries, the U.S. border is already virtually open. Disagree? Tell me what annual illegal immigration would be in the U.S. if the U.S. had similar border controls as, say, Bolivia, or Indonesia?

I always wonder why we can't start with this modest step: Remove the annual limit on H1B visas. Still require other statutory conditions, so that people admitted would meet certain employment and education conditions, just remove the rationing. Why are libertarians not proposing this? Because the border needs to stay closed for this specific group? Are libertarians than for closed borders for this group?

david writes:

Because US libertarians draw heavily from the educated white male crowd that most despises H1-B visas.

ColoComment writes:

It's only bizarre if you believe that the mainstream media reflect the policy views of the typical American.

What makes you believe that's true?

zman writes:

Christianity does not endorse open borders. On what do you base that claim?

Carl writes:

Does Caplan favour a "no borders whatsoever" policy? Should all U.S borders be abandoned tomorrow? If not, why not?

zman writes:

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ivvenalis writes:

"Does Caplan favour a "no borders whatsoever" policy? Should all U.S borders be abandoned tomorrow? If not, why not?"

Yes, yes, n/a.

"But the mainstream media is very sweet to me, and treats Steve like a pariah. I have to admit, it's bizarre."

Ya think?

Dan writes:

Bryan,

The reason most Americans agree with Sailor's Citizenism is because the doctrine is sensible, orderly and rational. It provides a framework that allows current citizens control over what their nation will be like in the future. People like to believe they have some control over their future and they don't have to be angry to feel this way.

The truth is that Americans are very comfortable with individual immigration. They are very welcoming of the new person and even the new family in their neighborhood. What offends the American voter is the claim that everyone else but them gets to decide if America is a swell place to live. If you want to convert voters to your paradigm you need to address this concern.

Imagine tens of thousands of foreigners decide some small US city is perfect for settlement. "Open Borders" ideology says they have that right, even if this imposes economic, religious and cultural changes on the community. What about the right of the current residents to protect the language and culture in which they are invested?

Concerning your opening paragraph: If you were trying to prove that you are rude and disrespectful you succeeded. Since you clearly are not trying to win anyone over to your worldview I suppose one may ask, what is your objective? You voice disdain for those who disagree with you on a policy matter yet you claim you care for everyone in the world. Some may conclude all you are really saying is that the people of this country are not good enough for you.

johnleemk writes:
Imagine tens of thousands of foreigners decide some small US city is perfect for settlement. "Open Borders" ideology says they have that right, even if this imposes economic, religious and cultural changes on the community. What about the right of the current residents to protect the language and culture in which they are invested?
And how is this complaint any different from a complaint which the rich of a nation might have against the nation's poor? The whites against the blacks? The educated against the uneducated? Massive black settlement in heretofore predominantly white cities was a real problem for the 20th century US. Should this have been banned/restricted in a manner identical to modern immigration restrictions?

The Know-Nothings of the 19th century US shared precisely your concerns about religion and culture. Something about the filthy papist Irish being terrorists and welfare parasites, etc. But even they didn't want immigration restrictions; they just wanted tighter citizenship/naturalisation rules.

Is there an immigrant preventing you from speaking your own language, practicing your own cultural traditions, or following your religion right now? If yes, what's stopped you from pursuing legal action against that person/community? And if not, what reason do you have to think that you run a real risk of facing such oppression from future peaceful immigrants?

John Smith writes:

Why does Bryan keep posting along the same themes of argument. The readers here have told him loud and clear why we and by extension the overwhelming majority of citizens oppose his ideas.

He should address these ideas head on instead of just repeating the same old theme.

To name just one of the more common rebuttals, citizens of US does not give much of a crap about other countries' people. It is as simple as that. And for the most part, they are willing to lie about it if you try to portray them as racist for it. So, they may not be consistent. But that is the way it is.

So. What do you suggest, Bryan?

John Smith writes:

Why does Bryan keep posting along the same themes of argument. The readers here have told him loud and clear why we and by extension the overwhelming majority of citizens oppose his ideas.

He should address these ideas head on instead of just repeating the same old theme.

To name just one of the more common rebuttals, citizens of US does not give much of a crap about other countries' people. It is as simple as that. And for the most part, they are willing to lie about it if you try to portray them as racist for it. So, they may not be consistent. But that is the way it is.

So. What do you suggest, Bryan?

MikeP writes:

Does Caplan favour a "no borders whatsoever" policy?

I doubt it.

Should all U.S borders be abandoned tomorrow?

No.

If not, why not?

Because the point of borders is not to keep other nations' people out: It's to keep other nations' government out. That's what sovereignty is.

Borders are nothing but where one nation's laws and jurisdiction ends and another's begins. Since US laws are for the most part better than other nations' laws, US borders are good things to keep around.

But none of these positive facts about borders, jurisdiction, or sovereignty provides any rationale for prohibiting goods, services, or people crossing borders.

MikeP writes:

I always wonder why we can't start with this modest step: Remove the annual limit on H1B visas. Still require other statutory conditions, so that people admitted would meet certain employment and education conditions, just remove the rationing. Why are libertarians not proposing this?

Name one libertarian proponent of more liberal immigration who is not proposing this.

I have often been heard to say that restricting high skilled immigration is beyond insane. All it does is drive those talents, those jobs, and entire high skilled industries to other countries.

Because US libertarians draw heavily from the educated white male crowd that most despises H1-B visas.

Name one.

georgesdelatour writes:
"Because the point of borders is not to keep other nations' people out: It's to keep other nations' government out. That's what sovereignty is.

Borders are nothing but where one nation's laws and jurisdiction ends and another's begins. Since US laws are for the most part better than other nations' laws, US borders are good things to keep around."

The US is a democracy. Its laws derive ultimately from the demos (the citizenry), expressing its will through periodic elections. Change the demos and you will inevitably change the country's laws too. If a majority of US citizens were Salafi Muslims, for instance, the US would have a radically different politics with radically different laws from what it has today.

You may have heard about the political turmoil in Egypt. Egypt is a country where, according to surveys, two thirds of Egyptians think the state should execute you if change your religion from Sunni Islam. The army and the urban liberal elite have just intervened to suspend democracy, because it looked just too terrifying to continue with, given the demos.

Justin Irving writes:

I've long wondered if Caplan's silly immigration arguments were a sort of 'raise the red flag to oppose the red flag' thing. It also gives him some cover to constantly talk about IQ. Beating the unfettered-immigration drum as he has is unlikely to move the debate much, but maybe it gets his twin studies and irrational voter message out there better.

Dan writes:

@johnleemk

I invite you & Bryan especially to read up on the "Mormon War" which took place following the Mormon settlement in Missouri in the 1830s.

"Open Borders" ideology says the Mormons had the right to settle western Missouri and through the free market and democratic process take control of that area. That is what the Mormons began to do, with much success. Are your sympathies with the Mormons? If not please explain why in this circumstance you side with the Citizenists.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1838_Mormon_War

Smith's followers, commonly known as Mormons, began to settle in Jackson County in 1831 to "build up" the city of Zion. Tensions built up between the rapidly-growing Mormon community and the earlier settlers for a number of reasons:

--Their economic cohesion allowed the Mormons to dominate local economies.

--Most Mormon immigrants to Missouri came from areas which were sympathetic to abolitionism.

--They tended to vote in blocks.

Real ity writes:

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Hansjörg Walther writes:

But how much of a problem is pure misanthropy anyway?

Try to name pure misanthropes who have made an impact (i.e. people who hate _all_ human beings). My list is rather short: Ted Kaczynski and perhaps a few other deep ecologists and people who have run amok.

To have an impact as someone who hates others you will have to cooperate and align with some other people. However, from that point on you have to make a distinction between the in-group who are okay, and the out-group you hate. And that's then just tribalism by another name. And it is no longer misanthropy if the word means to hate human beings per se.

And no, the examples you would like to give are not counterexamples: the Nazis were not misanthropic, but only hated certain groups of "them".

And population bombers are not a counterexample either. True, the founders of the ideology had a streak of misanthropy. However, what made the impact was a concern that too much population of "them" will have a negative impact on "us". To cast it as a general principle makes it more palatable to an egalitarian Zeitgeist. But all concrete measures were and are: let's reduce "them" (both on a world scale and in the Indian context).

You are right that tribalism in and of itself does not imply hatred for out-groups (not even that there are any because your tribe might be humankind), but then that's the distinction. Calling hatred for out-groups "misanthropy" is a strange use of the word.

RPLong writes:

Dan,

You greatly over-simplify the Mormon War.

On the one hand, the Mormons' practice of abducting teenage brides into polygamy was unlawful. Open borders does not mean lawlessness. On the other hand, the violence waged by the locals against those Mormons that were peaceful and kept to themselves is no different than the many historical instances of xenophobia to which we can all refer.

My answer is that xenophobia and coercive misogyny are always abhorrent, while migration and population never are.

AMac writes:

In the body of the post, Bryan wrote,

> Because even though people love the implications of citizenism, they wince at the doctrine itself...

This is an instance where greater specificity would improve clarity. "People" certainly doesn't include illegal aliens, Democratic politicians, or Republican employers -- all of whom stand to benefit from Open Borders. Nor does it include the Hidalgo/Conquistador strata of Mexican society who wish to continue outsourcing their country's economic and racial underclass to El Norte, rather than enacting painful reforms to deal with their problems directly.

Yet these groups are all comprised of "people."

Suggested rewrite:

Most American citizens love the implications of citizenism, particularly its effects on supply-and-demand of labor. Citizenism favors wage-earners, especially those among the working poor.

Greg G writes:

Many "orthodox moral theories" do indeed recommend treating everyone with the same level of generosity. And they celebrate those who bring outsiders into their families, countries, and circles of friends.

But in real life nobody does this for long. We all extend generosities and privileges to our families that we would not normally extend to those outside of our families. We all extend generosities and privileges to our circle of friends that we would not extend to non-friends. And we all extend generosities and privileges to citizens that we do not extend to non-citizens.

This apparent inconsistency is not really a big mystery. An economist, of all people, ought to recognize it is an unavoidable consequence of the fact that resources are limited and choices need to be made. General principles have a much more limited usefulness than Bryan thinks in deciding specific cases in a world where we care about many different values.

JS123 writes:

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Tim writes:

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Steve Z writes:

"almost everybody is misanthropic, and misanthropes are horrible, angry people," spake the misanthrope, angrily.

S writes:

The older I get the less militantly atheist I get, yet, the less religious I get. As such, appeals dogma become less and less palatable.

Every orthodox moral theory - utilitarianism, Kantianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, wealth maximization, Rawlsianism, Christianity, and Marxism ...

My time is too valuable to worry about stuff like this anymore. Trying to find/maintain the best possible world for my friends and family given a bunch of practical constraints, and basic intuition, seems more worth while.

James writes:
Every orthodox moral theory - utilitarianism, Kantianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, wealth maximization, Rawlsianism, Christianity, and Marxism for starters - straightforwardly endorses open borders, or something close.

Nothing is straightforward about any massive change to human organisation--not even the end of communism. This the main problem with all the open borders arguments.

In particular, the ability of other institutions apart from the U.S.'s federal bureaucracy to control people's movement and interactions is important. This includes the extent of private property in comparison to public utilities, the law of restrictive contracts, social engineering issues and the centralisation of borders and politics in general.

Most animosity towards immigration exists because once typical Third World migrants become citizens of the U.S., the current state of institutions, law and politics makes them a direct or indirect source of serious coercion for most existing Americans.

Attempts to compare this coercion to other forms need not only consider the short-term material welfare of various parties, but also e.g. the consequences of encouraging American libertarians to view various centralised authorities as moral arbiters who are only accountable to their notion of a global utilitarian calculus.

Rather than join in street protests, or whatever it is Bryan Caplan wants his readers to do, I suggest that the object of libertarians should be to discuss and research forms of organisation and law in which human movement, as well as many other things, would be determined by a more diverse, countervailing and decentralised set of institutions. Of course, the mainstream media wouldn't be sweet, or even understand Caplan if that were his style of commentary.

Thomas Boyle writes:

It's long been my impression that most Americans want prospective immigrants to follow the proper immigration procedure because they rather naively imagine that there actually IS one.

If you're marrying a US citizen, are a minor child of a US citizen, are a retired parent of a US citizen, or are one of the few people who get H-1 visas in the minutes it takes for the quota to get filled, there is (although some family categories have waiting lists decades long). Oh, and if you have enough money to start a business employing I forget how many US citizens, and pay attorneys to walk you through the bureaucratic process that decides whether your business is real.

For everyone else, regardless of their talents, willingness or ability to contribute, there simply isn't. The loss to our country, to us, is incalculable.

But, hey, we all know why the policy is there. As the foreigners who paid for that ironic statue in New York would say, plus ca change.

Ben A writes:

Every orthodox moral theory - utilitarianism, Kantianism, egalitarianism, libertarianism, wealth maximization, Rawlsianism, Christianity, and Marxism for starters - straightforwardly endorses open borders

As others have pointed out, this is wrong.

Utilitarianism: saying U supports a position is really an empirical claim. But the empirical claim is not straightforward, indeed how could it be. What is being advocated here is *entirely open borders*, where the empirical results over the long term must to some degree be uncertain.

Kantianism: Kant did believe in a right of hospitality. But extrapolating that to the lack of the ability of a sovereign state to exclude migration at some point is debatable.

Egalitarianism: Not all egalitarians place zero value on 'solidarity,' community norms, or ability of current insiders to avoid competition. Not all egalitarians support right to work laws, e.g.

Rawls: My understanding was this was a vexed issue in Rawls on classic Ideal/Non-Ideal and "who is in the original position" grounds. Maybe the "Law of Peoples" lays this all out , but based on Theory of Justice Rawls, I don't think the answer is obvious.

Christianity: Seems like an ignorant comment. Political philosophy in the Xian tradition usually has a concept of powers the sovereign can exercise.

Libertarianism: A lot here will depend on specific property rights definitions and the political system, right? *If* a libertarian state had rules like a condo association, then they can exclude trivially.

johnleemk writes:

Thomas Boyle hits the nail on the head here. Some people receiving US visas today applied for them over two decades ago. There are people in the "queue" today who can expect to receive their visa in about 80 years. US law essentially bans many people from migrating; when the queue is this long, it might as well not exist.

As for reasons to ban immigratgion, I am willing to give the institutional/cultural shift arguments some credibility, but historically the only instances of open borders resulting in catastrophes of the sort being raised here have been associated with either outright foreign invasion -- i.e. colonialism -- or a weak government inviting foreigners to run roughshod over them.

For instance, people often worry that allowing large quantities of migration will lead to them becoming marginalised like aboriginal peoples in their own country. Most aboriginal peoples had a very weak government incapable of dealing with a colonial invasion, and nobody is suggesting that if country X plans to colonise country A tomorrow by subsidising the sending of lots of X citizens over to invade A that A shouldn't respond with force. Citizens' freedom of movement is restricted all the time for reasons of public safety, and the same should apply to foreigners. But where foreigners do not have hostile intentions, then just like citizens they ought to be free to move.

And as for the commonly-cited example of Texas and Mexico, it's often forgotten that the Mexican government wanted to colonise Texas and was so desperate for settlers that they literally invited in the Anglos, gave them all acres of land, and wantonly disposed of the Mexican legal system in favour of Anglo law in Texas. The Mexican government banned slavery throughout the country, but allowed the Texans to maintain their own legal system permitting slavery.

Today so far as I can tell, nobody except some religious fundamentalists are suggesting that countries accepting immigrants ought to blindly implement foreign legal systems in their own country. Some countries allow religious law to be used as a basis for arbitration in some civil matters, but that's arbitration, not regular legal proceedings.

As a young and "pure" Anglo-Saxon country, the US had no difficulty absorbing an incredible amount of immigrants of foreign extraction -- people subject then to exactly the same grouses as immigrants are today (religious fundamentalists, uncouth, poor, parasites, terrorists, corrupt vote banks for the political machine, etc.). It hardly seems to me that one can say the US is in a weaker position to deal with these problems today than it was when most of the country was undeveloped and the entirety of its institutions were young and nascent.

Andrew writes:
Because the point of borders is not to keep other nations' people out: It's to keep other nations' government out. That's what sovereignty is.

Well said Mike P

Finch writes:

FWIW, my read is that Rawlsian reasoning rejects open borders.

If you want to be indifferent between being the citizen and being the potential immigrant, you want the transaction of immigration to occur at a price that would be acceptable to both of them. There's no reason to believe that price should necessarily be zero, and in fact you'd expect it to be quite high for the low-skill immigrant, and possibly negative for the high-skill immigrant.

As an aside, am I the only one who noticed Bryan writing a vitriolic, uncharitable, oversimplifying, and insulting post on citizenists, and then having the gall to accuse them of being angry? I mean, if they show up angry, isn't that a completely reasonable response? They are being baited.

Douglass Holmes writes:

Christianity was the religion of most of the people who founded this nation. Even the Deitists were basically Christian in their morality. Yet, the early US had essenially open borders. Most Christians that I know and have discussed this issue with seem to be more concerned with the failure of some immigrants to respect our laws or follow the rules.
I do not think that Christ would have favored placing unreasonable restrictions on poor people who seek to improve their lives by seeking work in another country. To the extent that our government places undue restrictions on people seeking work in our country, we are not observing the Golden Rule.

Aaron Zierman writes:

Bryan Caplan -

I think it might be extremely useful to hear a post from you that talks about some potential difficulties that could result from true open borders. To pretend like everything else is completely horrible and open borders is almost utopia-like is a bit unreasonable. The difference (as with nearly everything) is in the margin. I'd like a more honest discussion of the topic.

Thank you.

Handle writes:

George Mason University Acceptance Rates, Overall / Out-Of-State (2010):

Undergraduate Freshmen:
51.7% / 40.5%

Law:
24.3% / 23.2%
(only 2.3% of enrolees are Black and Hispanic)

Doctoral:
40.8% / 36.0%
(only 9% of enrolees are Black and Hispanic)

SAT Reading:
Mean: 570, SD: 74
SAT Math:
Mean: 575, SD: 67

Comparing that to the overall SAT distribution among test takers, mean approx. 500, SD approx. 100-110) - George Mason gets almost all of it's undergraduates from the upper half of the population distribution.

In other words, it's a pretty selective community. What's wrong with being selective?

Tom West writes:

or getting the policies you think are morally right?

I think Bryan is making a fundamental mistake in assuming this is a fight based on morality. It is a fight based on wanting something, in this case cultural and social continuity.

Citizenism is simply a tool to justify what one wants, not the reason for wanting it. In fact, the desire for cultural and social continuity runs across the spectrum. Just look at how many who consider themselves Libertarians or compassionate towards the poor discard such sentiments (okay, manufacture some excuse) when confronted with the fact that Open Borders policy is a natural outcome of the morality they claim to espouse.

Matt writes:
Borders are nothing but where one nation's laws and jurisdiction ends and another's begins. Since US laws are for the most part better than other nations' laws, US borders are good things to keep around.

Ok, but by the same token, other nations' laws are worse than those of the US, and so they are bad things that oughtn't be kept around. So time to start conquering, or in other words expanding that good governance. If not, why not?

If many people would benefit by living in the US, well then let's just bring the US to them.

I always wonder why we can't start with this modest step: Remove the annual limit on H1B visas.

I propose instead eliminating the H1B visa in favor of a new, unrestricted visa similar to H1B but pertaining to lawyers and college professors.

guthrie writes:

@ S,
Many of those who oppose relaxed immigration seem to do so from one of the religeo-philosophical bases that Bryan mentions. He addresses concerns and objections over the 'best possible world', 'practical constraints' and 'basic intuition' in other posts.

@zman
Check out these passages from the Judeo/Christian tradition: Exodus 23:9, Leviticus 19:34, Deuteronomy 19:34, Colossians 3:11, Galatians 3:28.

@Greg G
Personally, yes. However I have no issue with someone walking down the street who is not engaging me in any way. I am not affected at all by a business owner, who is a stranger to me, choosing to hire another stranger to me. I need exercise no generosity or privilege whatsoever if a stranger moves from, say, Utah to Maine. How does our lack of obligation to strangers translate into antipathy toward a stranger moving from one location (wherever that happens to be) to another?

James writes:

Johnleemk,

My most serious concern about mass immigration is as follows. Presently, some of the most arbitrary exercises of power in the United States and other Western countries involve race. This includes national witch hunts, extensive interventions in the use of private property and other problems.

I expect that, given a certain constitution in a hypothetical modern polity, open borders could work. However, increased immigration into our real polities, which have less than ideal institutions and legal systems, exacerbates some of their worst politics. I don't find comparisons to historical polities very useful in estimating this problem, because, e.g., America in the 19th century had very different politics, in addition to other changes such as transport technology.

I believe Bryan Caplan has commented on this to the effect that his readers should campaign for open borders and everything else that would make this desirable. However, my ability to change anything as an activist or protester, let alone America's obsession with race, equality and democracy, is negligible.

My interest in politics involves research into polycentric law and other abstruse, good institutions that only libertarians and similar people tend to find interesting. I think that this is a more ethical use of one's free (or professional) time than any form of activism, especially in the long term. How reliably does activism and mass politics produce a desirable outcome?

Mike Rulle writes:

Bryan always gets huge response on this topic. Even though, as others have noted, he basically just repeats himself. I also resent his implied racist accusation against citizenists. This is absurd.

For once I would like Bryan to spell out a political world view consistent with his supposed open borders philosophy. By the way, I am for a multifold increase in immigration, chosen each year at random from all those who apply around the world.

Mike P had a good response. Carl also asked you do more than just throw hand grenades at citizenists. Bryan appears to ignore the history of humans. I believe he wants no government and no local gangism. Me too. Except, just how does that happen?

guthrie writes:

Handle,
It is reasonable to assume that very few who are selected out of attending GMU are suffering from extreme poverty or in danger of an early death, which would be abated by attending GMU. Plus, US immigration policy is far more restrictive than even GMU's selection criteria. That is 'what's wrong'.

BTW, @Tom West, this is why making a moral case is appropriate, IMO. There are lives at stake, and it's right to point that out.

johnleemk writes:

James, while I think racial policies in most countries stand to be improved, I'm not quite sure I understand how encouraging the exercise of government power on an arbitrary basis (AKA the operation of immigration restrictions as they currently stand) is supposed to help things.

As an aside, most immigration restrictions stem historically from racism. The first US law to restrict immigration (as opposed to naturalisation) was the Chinese Exclusion Act. This doesn't mean that all immigration restrictions are racist or arbitrary, but it should give us pause whenever people advance arguments for immigration restrictions that mirror identically what people once had to say about Chinese, Jews, Italians, Germans, or Irish. And it shouldn't surprise us that immigration law operates arbitrarily today when it is rooted in a discredited and arbitrary body of laws meant to discriminate against people on the basis of their ethnicity.

candid_observer writes:

The claim that John Rawls supported open borders couldn't more dishonest and/or ignorant.

Here's what Rawls has to say in his book The Law of Peoples:

An important role of a people's government, however arbitrary a society's boundaries may appear from a historical point of view, is to the representative and effective agent of a people as they take responsibility for their territory and its environmental integrity, as well as for the size of their population.

Indeed Rawls has been criticized in our new "enlightened" age on the matter of open borders for being so utterly focused on nation-states, expressing essentially no interest in discussing, much less promoting, immigration.

See, for example:

link

So can we stop the historical revisionism, please?

gail writes:

It's all about experience, the best teacher.

Let me guess: you don't(nor have you ever)lived in a community, a neighborhood, in which open borders has resulted in welfare lines at the HHS building two miles away, with anchor baby mothers and their little ones being served your tax dollars. You haven't waited in a doctor's office while MediCal patients, armed with their anchor babies, sit five to a row, a mother with four kids (each child about 14 months apart--oh, and btw, not all the kids are actually "anchor" children...maybe only one or two were born here but in your open borders world it's a moot point anyway). You haven't stood in the line at Food-4-Less, trying to save a few bucks on your families' grocery bill while the open borders crowds in front of you pay the bill with food stamps and merrily walk out, only to find a dent they left in your car door. (Funny how they have no appreciation of MY car). Let me guess: you're thinking, "What a small-minded person, worrying about such little things while I, Caplan the Economist, think of the large ideas of life, the trivial daily problems of regular ole working Americans and their families be damned.")

You haven't had the principal tell you that because he needs an extra teacher for the new ESL section he's opened, he's pulling out one of your colleagues from the English Department, leaving 37 kids from her former class to be absorbed by the four other sections of the course; thus, you've not been told to be ready the next day to receive your "share" of the change.

You haven't had meeting after meeting to determine some way, ANY way, to encourage the Open Border kids and their parents to learn English, to see to it homework is done--or at least attempted-- and most importantly, to see to it they don't remove their kids from school for five weeks around Christmas and ten days around Easter. ("How is it 'poor people' find the money for all that gas or airfare," you never have to wonder.)

You don't ever get to see first hand, do you, Bryan, that there are indeed peoples and cultures that don't want to live the "American Dream" as YOU understand that dream, which includes an education and a grasp of at least the basics of such an education?

Nor do you understand that there are people who don't wish to assimilate, do you? Nor do you need to ponder why they should when the border is open, when they can cross it any time they wish, and when their real home, the home of the heart, is tanks of gas and a cheap plane ride away.

You do not send your children to these schools, do you, Bryan? You live in no such neighborhood, do you, Bryan? Nor would you because you know the performance of a school is really the performance of the children of that school and your children would learn next to nothing in such a school, but you don't think anything's wrong with the children of other Americans who are middle and working class sending their kids to this school, this school of kids who aren't really (oh, oh, this is probably a really sore spot with you) not_ very_ bright. No, Bryan, not bright. In fact, the occupy the lower end of the Bell. Is it any wonder they don't show an interest in school? How does one learn algebra, how does one care about algebra with an IQ of 87 or so when multiplication tables are difficult enough?

Indulge in all the intellectualism you wish. It changes nothing. You are intellectually dishonest, and face it, a hypocrite. Or, surprise me by having a new baby, moving to a community like the one I've described, living in the neighborhood, and sending your son or daughter to the neighborhood school there.

Finch writes:

> It is reasonable to assume that very few who are
> selected out of attending GMU are suffering from
> extreme poverty or in danger of an early death

Come Guthrie, that’s hyperbole. If that was the moral justification for more open immigration, it wouldn't apply for immigrants from the Americas, nor Europe, nor much of Asia. Only some small fraction face significant danger at home. Most immigration, especially most Latin American immigration, is for minor economic betterment. This is one of the reasons people scoff at moral arguments on immigration. The problem for the potential immigrant (“stuck in Mexico”) just doesn't seem that bad.

guthrie writes:

@Finch
It's also hyperbole to compare the restrictions on freedom of movement to a college admission, which is what I was addressing. And as you do not deny that the number of people in said dire circumstances is >0, it seemed, and still seems, an appropriate response to me.

Moral appeals are made in support of restrictions (see gail above), so moral arguments in favor of the freedom of movement - given that there are *some* people in the world who's lives would be dramatically lengthened and improved - are just as valid.

Richard Besserer writes:

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Handle writes:

@guthrie:

Nice try with 'hyperbole'. You purposefully avoided the more abstract point about community entrance selectivity; George Mason being the particular selective community of which our genial host is a tenured member delegated a certain measure of influence over who else gets in. People want in, it could make their lives better, GMU says no. A lot.

Selectionism = Citizenism. If one can be moral so can the other. If not, explain why not. All quality human organizations do it aggressively, indeed, in proportion to their quality. Like, you know, Canada. Our host obviously does not find GMU's selectionism so off-putting that he would choose to disaffiliate from their system of closed membership.

Please feel free to try again. Try to engage with the logic of the principles involved.

Ryan Faulk writes:

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Psmith writes:

@ handle: Seems to me there’s a pretty big difference between a private instutition being selective (although GMU is a public university, which muddies the waters for sure) and a country being selective. A private human institution is peaceful by nature (a legitimate one, anyway.). If you don’t like the rules, don’t deal with them. But countries--national governments, to be more specific, since those are the entities we’re talking about--are coercive by nature. If you don’t like the rules, too bad, basically. So if GMU tells its law school not to admit anyone below a cutoff LSAT score, and the people at the law school don’t like it, they can leave. If the U. S. Federal Gov’t tells private employers that they can’t hire to people without work visas, the employers cannot practically go somewhere else, nor can they start their own government and hire immigrants under that government’s rules. If I had to pin down the difference between selectivism and citizenism in a phrase, I’d say it’s territorial sovereignty.

@ gail: sounds like a lot of the problems with you describe are flaws with the US education system, not flaws with immigration. I’ve also heard similar complaints from friends with teaching experience in neighborhoods where lots of poor citizens live. It sounds like you’d be in favor of deporting poor citizens who dent your car, don’t do well in school, etc.
Additionally, people having children that aren’t very bright is no reason to forcibly exclude them from a particular patch of territory. Bryan has discussed this before in the context of comparative advantage: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2006/01/where_eugenics.html

Finch writes:

> It's also hyperbole to compare the restrictions on
> freedom of movement to a college admission, which
> is what I was addressing.

In which direction do you think the hyperbole runs?

JonS writes:

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guthrie writes:

@Handle
Ignoring the snide-ness, I'll be direct. Your analogy fails to be helpful for the same reasons comparing the Nation to a house fails.

Please read the following:
http://www.ilw.com/articles/2008,1218-boudreaux.shtm

In short there is not 'logic' involved here. Your equation only works if there is complete unanimity in regards to immigration policy in the Nation as a whole. As you can see, the Nation falls far short of that metric. Sorry to burst your bubble.

@Finch
I was adopting your terminology and being off-hand. I do not believe either is necessarily hyperbole. As I've stated to Handle here, analogizing a college to the whole country is merely a useless argument. There are people in the world who do suffer, however, as a result of being restricted from coming here. That is not hyperbole.

johnson85 writes:

I would join the people in noting how disappointing a post this is. Maybe I've missed it, but I don't think I've seen another post from Caplan that was so uncharitable.

In addition, it's mighty cheap to feel smugly superior when you know that you won't have to deal with any of the negative affects of what you advocate. I personally would like a world (a) with open borders and (b) where everyone recognized that getting a majority to support something that's immoral doesn't make it legitimate. Neither one of those are available so even though I support much more immigration, I can at least be honest enough to recognize that it's easy to support immigration knowing I (like Caplan) will reap as much or more benefit than the average person and most likely be shielded from any negative impacts of the policy that will actually result. It's always nice when what (you think) is the moral thing also works out to your benefit (or at least not to your detriment). But that's not an occasion to act smug because you support the moral position.

Jack Hanson writes:

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William JD writes:

Utilitarianism most certainly does not call for open borders. To the contrary, utilitarianism mandates borders (property).

Open borders results in those who produce less sharing the product of those who produce more. That is another way of saying that "open border" subsidizes less-productive people and penalizes the more-productive, which means that it will lead to relatively more of the former and relatively fewer of the latter. In the long run, that means less productivity (or utility) per capita, and probably a lot fewer capita as well.

Handle writes:

@guthrie:

"Your equation only works if there is complete unanimity in regards to immigration policy in the Nation as a whole"

This assertion is ridiculous. Few organizations require perfect consensus to make any decision, let alone amendments concerning the rules of admission of new members.

As for 'comparing a nation to a house' (usually a criticism reserved for Macroeconomic discussion, and this isn't one), I am doing nothing of the sort.

I am saying that a nation properly belongs in the set or category of human organizations in general for the purposes of analyzing the propriety or morality of its particular membership criteria.

Libertarians like myself are in broad agreement that, in general, (and especially if they aren't possessed of 'coercive power') organizations have expansive property rights over the real estate they own and a freedom of association which invest the members with a right to choose with whom they will or will not associate or admit to their organizations or property.

Libertarians have no problem when these organizations are colleges (even public ones) or companies or non-profits or personal clubs, or whatever. All of these, in Libertarian thought, regardless of whatever nature or purpose, and of whatever size or authority (save sovereign coercive authority) can legitimately be selective with whom they deal or admit, and can create a decision mechanism, democratic or otherwise, (even unanimity) to make rules regarding such.

In other words, 'no borders' Libertarians generally agree with the moral legitimacy of all 'private borders' (even the 'private' borders of public institutions, like George Mason University, which obtain a good amount of their funding by coercive means from taxpayers without scoffing too much about it) and the right of those organizations to exclude whomever they want.

Maybe you disagree with this and think that any organization should be compelled, for moral reason, to admit any human being on the planet who makes a claim of dire distress if it improves the utilitarian calculus. OK, make that claim then. Other political ideologies certainly do - but it's not a very Libertarian claim - that's for sure.

So 'the logic' of which I am referring is the logical extension of these private rights and their legitimacy to the population or government of a sovereign state. The 'moral cliff' discontinuity of this authority because of 'sovereignty' is a non-sequitur.

The right at issue is the right to exclude and regulate behavior on one's territory, a right capable of being held and enforced by law by individuals, private organizations, and governments alike.

I understand -that- open-borders proponents prefer to draw a line at government, but I haven't seen any persuasive case as to -why- the right must be morally be invalid there, but nowhere subsidiary. I don't think there is one, but I'll keep an open mind.

JohnC writes:

If the (at times illegal) immigration of Jews to Palestine - in numbers large enough numbers that there eventually started running the place - and the current Jewish objection to the Palestinians’ asserted “right of return" doesn't show you why people can sensibly object to open borders - that there's more at stake than people just imagining the economy as zero-sum cake, with immigrants eyeing the crumbs on their mouths - I fear nothing will.

Psmith writes:

Also, to all the people saying things like "easy for Bryan to say, he won't have to live next door to giant families of Mexicans" or words to that effect, I think that's addressed by his bubble posts. E.g.: http://econlog.econlib.org/archives/2012/03/my_beautiful_bu.html

brian h. writes:

Bryan Caplan: I hope you'll go see Elysium The film supposedly takes a pessimistic, Malthusian perspective on population, while also advocating open borders (mass immigration to the space station).

Here is a question: If a space station is privately owned, do they have a right to exclude would-be immigrants?

Crawfurdmuir writes:

Christianity has nothing to say, one way or the other, about open borders. It is a path to personal salvation, not a plan for the organization of secular society or government. Christ said that His kingdom was not of this world. This world, in the Christian view, is a vale of tears, a sinkhole of depravity, and the Prince of This World is Satan.

There are, of course, so-called Christians - many of them even clergymen - who, in the words of Gómez Dávila, search sedulously through textbooks of sociology in an effort to fill what they believe to be lacunae in the Gospels. Whatever such persons profess should not be confused with Christianity.

Our Founders, on the other hand, referred in the Declaration of Independence to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." And what is the law of nature? Wordsworth provides the answer:

"The creatures see of flood and field, And those that travel on the wind!
With them no strife can last; they live In peace, and peace of mind.
"For why?--because the good old rule
Sufficeth them, the simple plan,
That they should take, who have the power,
And they should keep who can."

Territoriality is part of nature. Two subspecies of the same animal rarely coexist together; one variety prevails in a given habitat. Wherever they find themselves together, there is conflict until one destroys, subjugates, or drives out the other. Thus it is with the races of mankind.

The points made by Madison Grant and Lothrop Stoddard eighty years ago in favor of immigration restriction have not so much been scientifically disproven as they have been smeared with guilt by association. It is still the case that the argumentum ad Hitleram is no substitute for logical or empirical rebuttal.

William JD writes:

Ignoring the snide-ness, I'll be direct. Your analogy fails to be helpful for the same reasons comparing the Nation to a house fails.

Please read the following:

http://www.ilw.com/articles/2008,1218-boudreaux.shtm

Here's what he says:

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.

How is that supposed to be true? Most people think it's obvious that it does belong to its owners in the same way a house does. He's not going to convince anyone by merely asserting the contrary.

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.

Isn't the whole point of "open borders" advocacy that living space within a country is NOT allocated by "market" transactions, but it should be? That it is allocated by "nonmarket" decisions like those made by the owners of a house, but it shouldn't be?

[My comment was first blocked and then restored to the wrong one. That was my comment for this post:]

Here is a group of people who would also have to endorse open borders: misanthropes with mainstream views. ;-)

They believe that open borders lead to disastrous consequences for a lot of human beings. And that's a plus for them.

More a reply to your statement that misanthropy is worse than tribalism. However, misanthropy is quite benign if it goes along with certain views.

A tribalist with the same views is pretty dangerous by comparison, exactly when he is not misanthropic, but cares about those in his tribe. And probably, that's a common type unlike pure misanthropes.

[So sorry, Hansjörg. The error was mine. Thanks for re-posting your comment. I've removed the erroneous one I accidentally posted to this thread instead of your intended comment for this thread. The other one is posted in the correct thread. --Econlib Ed.]

Dan writes:

What would happen if India decided to follow Hawaii's example and filled its airliners with its indigent with a one-way ticket to the USA?

Open Borders says India is welcome to send as many of its people to our nation as it chooses. Or China? Why would they not decide to send a few hundred million of its people to us?

And unlike the NFL draft we are not choosing the best and brightest of the lot. No, these countries are deciding who WE get. Are we really that naive to assume the USA gets a good deal?

If this is not what Open Borders advocates have in mind then PLEASE explain what regulation exists in your paradigm to prevent other nation's from abusing Open Borders to their advantage?

William JD writes:

"Your equation only works if there is complete unanimity in regards to immigration policy in the Nation as a whole"

This assertion is ridiculous. Few organizations require perfect consensus to make any decision, let alone amendments concerning the rules of admission of new members.

When something is jointly owned, the law says that all owners must agree to a transfer of ownership. Applied to immigration policy, that means that all owners (citizens) must agree to the immigration of any person who is given a share of the territory. There is no need for unanimity in regard to exclusion from part-ownership.

Moreover, you're ignoring the insights of George Mason University's greatest economists (Gordon Tullock & James Buchanan, who won the Nobel Prize while at JMU in 1986) in The Calculus of Consent: democracies -- i.e., legitimate polities -- do, always, by definition, require unanimity in decisionmaking. To save time and effort, the people can unanimously agree that, for instance, a particular type of decision will be made by majority vote, but the choice of the decisionmaking method must be unanimous in the first place.

Of course, again, the unanimity requirement supports your anti-open-borders position.

guthrie writes:

@Handle

Libertarians like myself are in broad agreement that, in general, (and especially if they aren't possessed of 'coercive power') organizations have expansive property rights over the real estate they own and a freedom of association which invest the members with a right to choose with whom they will or will not associate or admit to their organizations or property.

So, if I were to accost a stranger walking down a street, abuse him, and force him back to the corner, I would be in the right due to my 'freedom of association'? If yes, then I take your meaning (and will likely avoid transactions with you). If not, how is this different from the State doing so?

So 'the logic' of which I am referring is the logical extension of these private rights and their legitimacy to the population or government of a sovereign state. The 'moral cliff' discontinuity of this authority because of 'sovereignty' is a non-sequitur.
You misunderstand. Current immigration policy is an extension of base irrational fears, misanthropy, and racism. There is nothing about it linked to 'freedom'. This is why a line is - legitimately - drawn between 'private' and 'public' exercise of 'exclusion'.

(If you think about it, these policies are not really much different than other policies driven by irrational fears and feelings... such as those regarding ingestion of narcotics, or same-sex relationships, or sugary drinks, or, or, or...)

If I am to understand our shared Libertarian thought correctly, we believe that the right to exclude ends at the property line, be it your residence, business, or -if you will- school. Whom I choose to interact with is none of your business. You may not choose to do business with me, but you may not choose for me those others with whom I do business.

But please correct me if I'm mistaken regarding Libertarian thought.

A State's immigration policy which takes into account anything more than the individual's behavior, uses the coercive power it wields, not only to oppress peaceful individuals' movement, but also to limit free transaction between willing parties. You may find that just, but it doesn't seem terribly Libertarian, and falls far short of 'moral'.

As I see it, the non-sequitur here is the suggestion that the overreach of State power to limit freedom is somehow consistent with Libertarianism. But I will likewise remain open.

guthrie writes:

Here's a challenge... to date over 200,000 Hmong people from the highlands of Vietnam and Cambodia live in the US. Many of them - almost 50,000 - live in my state of Wisconsin, and over 10,000 live in the city of Milwaukee. They were allowed to immigrate here starting in 1975.

Given the circumstances of the time and place where they came from, most were destitute. There's no telling what the average IQ was, but one may reasonably guess that it was likely no higher than what would have been measured here. Most would have suffered had they not been allowed in, and nearly all would have lived with a lower quality of life than the life they were allowed to have here. Many would likely have met untimely ends.

As a citizen of 10 years in this state, I bear witness that there is no discernible cultural shift taking place within the state or city. The most visible aspects of their culture revolve around celebrations and funerals.

There hasn't been a mass conversion to Shamanism, nor has the state devolved into tribalism. In fact, it's hard to pinpoint any negative effects the presence of the Hmong has had on the state (short or long-term).

However, we can discern rather obvious benefits to the state due to Hmong influence. For example, Wisconsin is now a leading worldwide producer of Ginseng grown by Hmong farmers. They create jobs, produce goods, generate tax revenue, and benefit many many more people - again worldwide - then they ever would have if they had been stopped at the border.

So tell me dear Restrictionists and Citizenists... how does this story and these facts fit with your theories? How many immigrants is 'too many'? Is there a number? A percentage? How much time is needed before we begin to see the clearly defined and deleterious effects of relaxed immigration? Are Hmong people unusually extraordinary?

Or is it possible that this is an example of what can happen if we simply allow regular people to exist, move, live, work, and transact as they see fit?

spandrell writes:

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Candide III writes:

Some fun exercises for the open-border crowd to try their eloquence on:
1) persuade the Arabs of the British Palestinian mandate to support unrestricted immigration of Jews into said mandate;
2) persuade today's Israeli Jews to support unrestricted immigration of Arabs into Israel. For bonus points, persuade them to support the dissolution of the state of Israel;
3) persuade Native American tribes to support unrestricted immigration of Englishmen into North America;
4) persuade the citizens of Hong Kong to support unrestricted immigration of mainland Chinese into Hong Kong;
5) persuade the citizens of the Dominican Republic to support unrestricted immigration from Haiti into said republic.

@guthrie: I cannot help suspecting that you are being intentionally facetious. Can you say how many grains of sand constitute a mountain? Obviously it is not possible to put down an exact, or even an approximate, number or percentage of immigrants that is 'too many', because what is 'too many' is to some extent a matter of judgement; besides, immigrants are not fungible and there is the pesky question of territorial distribution (i.e. bubbles). But most reasonable people will agree that 90% is too many, and even you will probably agree that 99.99% is too many.

The same goes for the right to exclude ends at the property line, be it your residence, business, or -if you will- school. Is there really a shining line drawn around your residence's property boundaries such that you don't benefit from excluding others from any place beyond it? Pfui. You are merely relying on others to do the disagreeable job of excluding for you. Imagine your residence teleported, shining property lines and all, to Newark, NJ, and furnished with a two-way wormhole connecting your driveway with the road in the original location. Would you enjoy that? Would the value of your residence increase, or decrease? Why? What does this demonstrate about exclusion?

However, you are not merely facetious. It appears you consider citizenist argument an extension of base irrational fears, misanthropy, and racism. You cannot expect such an attitude to be productive of reasonable discussion.

Dan writes:

Concerning the Vietnamese immigration there are at least two salient points:

(1) There was a policy & programs that supported their immigration. In this case the law capped the number at 50,000 a year and voluntary agencies were setup to aid their settlement. It was not a "free-for-all" as demanded by "Open Borders" advocates

(2) US immigration policy should be liberalized and it should be designed not just to favor those on our closest borders or nearest continent.

That all said 9-11 and the Boston bombing ought to put the burden of proof on the Open Borders position. Allowing anyone into the country regardless of their cultural or religious baggage is a dangerous idea. The American people deserve better than their political leaders blindly opening the doors of the nations to those who would seek to do harm. So while I sympathize with the Open Borders people in that US immigration is too restrictive I challenge them to be a bit more pragmatic in recognizing not everyone should be invited to be our neighbor.

FYI: More information on Vietnamese immigration is here:
http://www.ailf.org/awards/benefit2005/vietnamese_essay.shtml

AMac writes:

Thanks to the many thoughtful commenters. Particulary hard-boiled Gail, the California teacher. The modesty exhibited by a few Open-Borderists such as johnson85 makes me feel that conversation is sometimes possible.

.
Who gets counted in the moral calculus of immigration policy?

Citizenists like me are explicit: the interests of my fellow U.S. citizens carry much more weight than the interests of foreigners.

Open-Borderists are often vague about which people will accrue the benefits that their proposals are to generate. Considering the bad deal that Open Borders offers to middle-class U.S. voters and their descendants, that ploy is understandable. But not admirable.

candid_observer writes:

It's ironic that Open Borders might turn to utilitarianism for a supporting moral theory. One of the well known classic criticisms of utilitarianism is that it is far too demanding on people, requiring them to sacrifice their own self-interests in unsupportable extremes. This criticism has often if not usually been regarded as a decisive refutation of utilitarianism in its standard form. Shelly Kagan, a well known moral philosopher at Yale, for example says of it: “Given the parameters of the actual world, there is no question that …(maximally)… promoting the good would require a life of hardship, self-denial, and austerity…a life spent promoting the good would be a severe one indeed.”

The reality is that nobody -- repeat, nobody -- comes even close to living by the demands of utiitarianism, even its most ardent advocates such as Peter Singer. When it comes to utilitarianism, where one finds ardency, one finds hypocrisy in equal measure.

Yet the Open Borders movement seems to act as if such a demanding moral imperative represents a feature, not a bug of a moral system.

guthrie writes:

@Dan

The point of bringing up Hmong immigration is to address specific objections that Citizenists and Restrictionists have brought up against a more relaxed immigration policy.

One set of arguments boils down to the fear that increased immigration will assault our vaunted institutions and cultural trappings, which - it would seem - are rather fragile and shallow in the minds of the objectors. Some even go so far as to assert that relaxed immigration would result in the dismantling of democracy, usurping of our legal system and foment race/tribal wars. In regards to Wisconsin and the presence of the Hmong, none of these outcomes are evident and it would appear that these fears are not soundly based in this case.

Another set suggests that relaxed immigration will result in the overburdening of the infrastructure and state welfare services. There was indeed State involvement in the immigration of the Hmong. However, one cannot point to the presence of the immigrants as a 'cause' of 'overburdening' Wisconsin's State services. In fact, one cannot really say the services or infrastructure are 'overburdened' at all. Nearly forty years on, there is no such evidence.

Which brings me to this. You said:

In this case the law capped the number at 50,000 a year

So is this your number? How was that number arrived at? Scientifically or arbitrarily? Why this number as opposed to something less (or more)? How do we know if more Hmong were allowed in, we wouldn't all be better off? It would certainly seem that way given the dearth of the negatives noted above, but I'm willing to listen if you have any insight into the matter.

@Candide III, you wrote:

Obviously it is not possible to put down an exact, or even an approximate, number or percentage of immigrants that is 'too many', because what is 'too many' is to some extent a matter of judgement

So who has the right to make that judgement? You? Me? You for me?

You are merely relying on others to do the disagreeable job of excluding for you.
Who is doing the excluding and who is being excluded? How am I 'relying' on someone for this 'service' if I don't know who I'm relying on and I don't know who is the object of this exclusion service? And how has that (or your wormhole analogy) got anything to do with what I was expressing here? Namely the Libertarian understanding of the limits upon my right to exclude? Please elucidate.

Question: if I want to marry someone from Mexico, why is your right to exclude this person greater than my right to marry them?

@AMac, you wrote:

Open-Borderists are often vague about which people will accrue the benefits that their proposals are to generate

Wrong. We are very specific. We all benefit. One example: anyone, worldwide, who has ever chosen to consume a product which includes Wisconsin-grown ginseng, has benefited from the immigration of the Hmong to the US.

Citizenists like me are explicit: the interests of my fellow U.S. citizens carry much more weight than the interests of foreigners.
Very well. However your misanthropy is neither particularly understandable nor admirable.
candid_observer writes:

Just to follow up on my previous post.

The criticism of utilitarianism and of Open Borders on the grounds of their being over-demanding carries further important implications.

Suppose we grant that the demands of utilitarianism or Open Borders might in either the actual or in possible scenarios might be far too great to expect individuals to abide by. Suppose in short that they simply require too much self-sacrifice.

Such a supposition amounts to the assertion that there is a line past which too much self-sacrifice is demanded. But then the question is: why should we believe that we have not already passed that line, even at the level of self-sacrifice demanded in virtue of today's level of immigration?

I've never seen a sincere attempt to address that issue among Open Borders advocates. Somehow it's just supposed to be obvious that we haven't crossed that line.

But it most certainly is not obvious.

guthrie writes:

@candid_observer,

I don't experience myself 'self-sacrificing' as a result of 'today's level of immigration'. Can you explain what you mean by 'self-sacrifice'? What are you being asked to sacrifice as a result of immigration?

JSYK, I don't self identify as a Utilitarian.

candid_observer writes:
Wrong. We are very specific. We all benefit. One example: anyone, worldwide, who has ever chosen to consume a product which includes Wisconsin-grown ginseng, has benefited from the immigration of the Hmong to the US.

I have no idea whether citizens in the US benefit on balance from the Hmong. How can one possibly pretend that that is equivalent to the question of whether the aggregate of immigrants to the US, as they are composed today, or the aggregate of immigrants to the US, as they would be composed under a policy of Open Borders, would on balance benefit US citizens?

Certainly Jason Richwine, and, I gather, George Borjas of Harvard, argue that even today's level and composition of immigration into the US shows a negative balance from now into the distant future, based on standard economic and social costs/benefit analysis. And God only knows how much more unfavorable that balance would be under a policy of genuinely Open Borders. Only believers in magic would argue that the balance was likely to be a positive one -- except in some very distant future, on some very rosy analyses.

candid_observer writes:

guthrie,

You personally might not be experiencing much self-sacrifice from today's level of immigration.

But I guarantee you that someone who loses a job to an immigrant -- such as many tech workers -- is sacrificing a great deal. Insofar as immigrants require more in government assistance than they put in, or will do so in the future, others will have to sacrifice. Insofar as immigrants introduce more crime, or contribute further to despoil the environment, they impose sacrifices on citizens.

Now maybe you are willing to deal with whatever sacrifices happen to be demanded upon you (though I have no reason to believe they are above average, rather than below). But who are you to tell others how much they should sacrifice? How does that become your choice, and your choice alone? Why in any case should your comfort zone be the comfort zone of every citizen?

Handle writes:

@guthrie:

"Current immigration policy is an extension of base irrational fears, misanthropy, and racism. There is nothing about it linked to 'freedom'. ...
(If you think about it, these policies are not really much different than other policies driven by irrational fears and feelings ... "

Thanks for that. It's clear, concise, and it's what we all suspected. I admire your honesty.

I'd make two objections.

1. Obviously proponents of restrictionist / selectionist policies would disagree with your defamatory characterization of their reasoning and motives and find your assertion a mere slur. Imagine - "Open Borders proponents merely base their opinions in irrational hatred for homogenous concentrations of European ancestry." Yes, that's the same as what you're doing.

2. You've stumbled, however, into the very heart of why these morality conversations lead us so often into dead-ends and name-calling. Because, when, at base, you find the conclusions and positions of your opponents evil, wicked, hateful, and abhorrent then you are bound to be tribalistic and misanthropic towards them and fail to hear out and dismiss or discount their legitimate concerns. Do you really think there are no rational reasons to hold these positions? Do you really think that there is one clear, correct answer to all moral questions, with no tolerance for those who disagree or allowance that they may be right?

3. Even stipulating that you are perfectly correct in this theory of the 'base' origins of attitudes, since when do Libertarians feel entitled to inquire into the propriety of people's motives for their preferences when deciding whether to invest them with the right to make choices consistent with their preferences? 'Your utility doesn't matter for the sake of making community rules because it's based on preferences I find distasteful' That's the opposite of a free society. If a bunch of Amish want to establish a purely Amish community somewhere that excludes non-Amish for 'base' motives, why do I get to trump their choice and undermine the utility they derive from it because of my imposing my own moral judgment upon them?

4. The fundamental moral question is this. If transitioning to an Open Borders policy would diminish the utility of a majority of the inhabitants (or the net social welfare) of a Selective-Borders jurisdiction, why is it immoral for them to prefer selectionism?

Your responses thus far has been 1. They aren't estimating the consequences correctly or 2. They have evil utility functions, so we don't have to care.

But those are diversions from the question, so I'll clarify by adding some constraints. Assume they are estimating the consequences correctly and their preferences arise from morally neutral places.

Now, at what point in the potential benefit to migrants does their continuation of selective entry rules become immoral? Let's say they'd all pay $100 a year to keep things the way they are. Is it when the migrants pay off the original inhabitants by that amount? Is it ok to come up with a price and have an auction?

Selectionists believe there is nothing compellingly immoral about wanting to preserve things they way they are, nor to telling a foreigner that he or she must remain in their home country. That is, while there may be a duty to not intentionally commit extra harm upon a stranger, there is no affirmative moral duty, to intervene and save him from claims of hardship, especially if it comes at some perceived personal cost or sacrifice.

Finally, the notion that it is immoral not to give up the rights, powers, and property in your possession and transfer it to someone who has less is the basis of some pretty awful ideologies and attempts at political organization. Again, places that base their policies on such moral principles are the very opposite of Libertarian.

It's indeed bizarre when Libertarians start throwing collectivist morality around as the basis for their preferred policies, and slandering anyone as wicked heretics should they disagree.

guthrie writes:

@Handle,

Thanks for that. It's clear, concise, and it's what we all suspected. I admire your honesty.

You’re welcome. I forgot ‘xenophobic’. What’s to ‘suspect’? Bryan has plainly stated these assertions in this and previous posts.

restrictionist / selectionist policies would disagree with your defamatory characterization of their reasoning and motives and find your assertion a mere slur.

Perhaps, but it wouldn’t make it any less true. Do you disagree that there might be some laws and policies that are enacted for irrational reasons? Are immigration policies somehow immune to the tendency of this country’s lawmakers to pander to the base fears/desires of their constituents? Or to be captured by powerful interests (such as Unions)? If they are, or even if they might be, isn't it correct to try to correct this?

Is it possible that while the accusation, while acerbic, is more accurate than a ‘mere slur’?

Imagine - "Open Borders proponents merely base their opinions in irrational hatred for homogenous concentrations of European ancestry." Yes, that's the same as what you're doing.

If you had said ‘Imagine - "Open Borders proponents merely base their opinions in irrational hatred for any reasonable involvement of Government regarding immigration’, I’d have given it to you. As it stands, I would love for more Brits, Franks, Germans, Swedes, to c’mon over. If for nothing else, for the abundance of humor, wine, food, and whatever it is Swedes are known for, these immigrants would likely bring with them. So you really are speaking past me here.

Because, when, at base, you find the conclusions and positions of your opponents evil, wicked, hateful…

No. I find them, by-in-large, silly and baseless. I’ll explain why I find them thus later.

…you are bound to be tribalistic and misanthropic towards them and fail to hear out and dismiss or discount their legitimate concerns.

No, I am challenging incorrect thought. I am addressing concerns which appear, to me at least, illegitimate. I am perfectly happy to allow you your thoughts, but am also perfectly happy to point out that they are wrong, and how wrong they are. In particular when the outcome of those thoughts are policies which limit human freedom.

…since when do Libertarians feel entitled to inquire into the propriety of people's motives for their preferences when deciding whether to invest them with the right to make choices consistent with their preferences?

When a person’s ‘preferences’ actively limit another person’s freedom to peacefully move, live and transact, why wouldn’t we challenge those preferences and the motivation behind those preferences?

'Your utility doesn't matter for the sake of making community rules because it's based on preferences I find distasteful'
Which precisely describes current immigration policy.
That's the opposite of a free society.

Agreed.

If transitioning to an Open Borders policy would diminish the utility of a majority of the inhabitants…

That’s a big ‘if’...

…why is it immoral for them to prefer selectionism?

It’s immoral to apply a ‘one size fits all, nobodies allowed in except by limited random lottery which can cause you to wait 70 years for the opportunity to be turned down’, because the loss suffered by those selected out is typically far and away greater than the loss suffered by current residents.

Assume they are estimating the consequences correctly and their preferences arise from morally neutral places.

Very well. If the dire consequences of relaxed immigration are somehow accurately measured, and every current resident would measurably suffer as the result of immigration, then there’s no question we ought to wall off the border immediately and offer no quarter to any who would come. The burden of proof would indeed be with those who would claim some kind of net benefit to some current resident as a result of the migration of one non-citizen.

Luckily, we don’t live in that world. No one on either side has the prophetic powers or numerical gravitas to outright make either case. I am comfortable with my lack of knowledge in this regard. My assertion is that when there’s doubt, err on the side of freedom. Markets work. Let’s let them.

…the notion that it is immoral not to give up the rights, powers, and property in your possession and transfer it to someone who has less is the basis of some pretty awful ideologies and attempts at political organization. Again, places that base their policies on such moral principles are the very opposite of Libertarian.

Oh, how I love it when this gets said. I’m the one advocating freedom of movement, mate. I’m suggesting that peaceful human movement is a human right. There is no ‘transfer’, no giving up of rights, powers, or property. These assertions are – once again – baseless. ‘Slectionists’ and Restrictionists, and Citizenists are the ones advocating for State control over human beings who are doing nothing more than walking from point A to point B, who are peacefully and willingly transacting with other willing and peaceful parties. You may have that preference, but don’t call it ‘Libertarian’.

You see, Handle, I used to be a strict Restrictionist myself. I used to argue the same points that have been argued here and other places in favor of strongly regulated borders. However, upon reflection and examination of the ‘facts’ that I purported, I found my objections specious at best, and racist at worst. So when I speak of xenophobia or misanthropy or racism, I’m speaking from my own experience. When I advance this language, I am doing so from an attitude of humility and assistance. Perhaps it doesn’t always s come across, but sometimes we need a slap in the face. I found, due to similar slaps in my face, that my views on immigration were inconsistent with my passion for freedom. I had to sacrifice one set of ideals for the other. I had to make a choice. So far, I’m convinced I’ve chosen wisely.

William JD writes:

The problem with Hmong immigration to Wisconsin is the opportunity cost. They take the place of indigenous German/Scandinavian Americans who have a right to this country's resources (carrying capacity) and who, by the way, produce positive externalities at an astounding rate.

As Salter would put it, the presence of the Hmong costs European-Americans thousands of "child equivalents", and it's bad for YOU because their presence lower per-capita productivity.

About the ginseng: what kind of accounting does not weigh benefits against costs? And, again, where is the analysis of opportunity cost? Even from a purely non-biological economic standpoint, this country's resources would be much more profitably invested in the indigenous Americans of Wisconsin.

William JD writes:

Oh, how I love it when this gets said. I’m the one advocating freedom of movement, mate. I’m suggesting that peaceful human movement is a human right.

But you're not talking about peaceful movement. You're talking about movement that occurs only because the government coerces the citizens to accept the immigrants who dilute their ownership interest. Immigration is imposed by force.

William JD writes:

It's ironic that Open Borders might turn to utilitarianism for a supporting moral theory. One of the well known classic criticisms of utilitarianism is that it is far too demanding on people, requiring them to sacrifice their own self-interests in unsupportable extremes.

That's an understandably silly criticism resulting from a typically silly and shortsighted utilitarian analysis.

Utilitarian analyses typically ignore the future. Completely.

If future utility matters (as it surely does), than the effect of our actions on future productivity must be considered, which means that one (and probably the only) implication of a utilitarian viewpoint is that exchange must always be VOLUNTARY.

Utility can't be measured, and interpersonal comparisons of utility are impossible, but we do know that in a voluntary exchange both parties believe their utility is being increased. Moreover, if all exchange is voluntary those who produce goods are rewarded by their own industry, and -- if the traits that lead to productivity are heritable (as they must be) -- per capita productivity and therefore utility will (ceteris paribus) increase over time.

This increases human happiness and is rightly called philanthropy.

guthrie writes:

@WilliamJD,

The problem with Hmong immigration to Wisconsin is the opportunity cost. They take the place of indigenous German/Scandinavian Americans who have a right to this country's resources (carrying capacity) and who, by the way, produce positive externalities at an astounding rate.
Yet somehow the Hmong have apparently mitigated whatever opportunity cost Wisconsin might have encountered and at this point (again, forty years on), produce just as many positive externalities. I can see no evidence that the resident population suffered in any way, access to and use of resources does not appear to have been diminished by any measurable standard, and it appears that people here have benefited, on net. If you can offer concrete counter information, I'd love to see it.
As Salter would put it, the presence of the Hmong costs European-Americans thousands of "child equivalents", and it's bad for YOU because their presence lower per-capita productivity.
Is there a demonstration as to how my life is worse off now, then without the presence of the Hmong here? Far as I can tell, 'lower per-capita productivity' means not one whit when I use the money earned at my job to purchase a drink made with Wisconsin (Hmong) grown ginseng. I don't understand how this argument is practical or practicable or applicable in my world. This world, right here, where the Hmong immigrants are, again I say, a net benefit.
Even from a purely non-biological economic standpoint, this country's resources would be much more profitably invested in the indigenous Americans of Wisconsin.
Source?
But you're not talking about peaceful movement. You're talking about movement that occurs only because the government coerces the citizens to accept the immigrants who dilute their ownership interest. Immigration is imposed by force.
Bizzaro world strikes again. The only coercion here, in regards to today's immigration policy, is the very real and coercive limits to free movement and free, and voluntary, exchange. When restrictions relax, that means there is less effort being put to coercion of any kind. How is it you can correlate a lack or limit of action as 'coercion'?
Dan writes:

@guthrie

You claim the Hmongs are proof of successful immigration. I pointed out that they may be proof of successful, LIMITED, immigration. The burden of proof is on you to show that unlimited immigration will be a net benefit to the USA.

Your response was to attack the morality of those who disagree with you. In other words, you have demonstrated that "Open Borders" is just another ideology, not based as fact but based on orthodoxy to a system that believes it is more moral than any other.

No one knows the ideal level of immigration. We do know that allowing those who hate western Democracy and those who have blood lust in their hearts invites trouble. We also know that allowing tens of millions of poorly educated, non-English speakers to take up residency creates considerable burdens on the education and social welfare systems of local governments.

A wise people would consider all this and say that one should be prudent in regards to immigration policy. But you say that such caution is unwarranted. True, the chances of YOU being harmed are tiny. But some Americans will likely be harmed. What makes their loss moral?

Brian writes:

"The only coercion here, in regards to today's immigration policy, is the very real and coercive limits to free movement and free, and voluntary, exchange."

Guthrie,

You have repeatedly claimed that immigration restrictions prevent or severely limit free and voluntary exchange. This claim is false. Do you want to hire a Honduran to make widgets for you? Build a factory in Honduras. Do you want an Indian to teach your children? Join an India-based cyberschool. Do you want to chat with Russians? Go on vacation to Moscow. In fact, immigration restrictions do not restrict your ability to make ANY exchange you want with anyone.

What the restrictions do, instead, is to limit WHERE you can make the exchange. But there is nothing wrong with this. You can't morally or legally restrict Alice from holding a yard sale and selling her stuff to Bob, but you can restrict them from doing it in YOUR yard. Likewise, a government shouldn't restrict the sale of, say, alcohol, but it seems reasonable to restrict it (and all other commercial transactions) from areas that are zoned residential only. Why? Because homeowners should have the option of living in an area free of excess noise and potentially dangerous traffic. If you don't like driving an extra mile to buy alcohol, don't live in that area. And please don't try to claim that your right of free exchange is being infringed. It's not.

As far as free exchange goes, immigration restrictions are no different than the above examples.

Careless writes:
Yet somehow the Hmong have apparently mitigated whatever opportunity cost Wisconsin might have encountered and at this point (again, forty years on), produce just as many positive externalities.
You know this how? Some sort of reality warping powers, or omniscience?
If you had said ‘Imagine - "Open Borders proponents merely base their opinions in irrational hatred for any reasonable involvement of Government regarding immigration’, I’d have given it to you. As it stands, I would love for more Brits, Franks, Germans, Swedes, to c’mon over. If for nothing else, for the abundance of humor, wine, food, and whatever it is Swedes are known for, these immigrants would likely bring with them
And that's a huge "whoosh."
Simon C writes:

I have a question for Gail or anyone else who thinks in a similar manner.

If you object to the use of government services by immigrants, why do you not advocate the denial of such services to recent immigrants instead of restricting their arrival completely? Would this not be a better policy, in that "good" immigrants could still do good work and activity while the misuse of government services would still be prevented.

Is it that you think advocating full restriction is a worse policy but more likely to be implemented? Or is it that you feel full restriction is actually a better policy in some way? If it is a better policy, in what way is it better?

Steve Z writes:

Simon C:

You answered your own question: keyhole solutions are completely untenable politically.

Careless writes:

Not just untenable politically, it's been ruled unconstitutional

Tom West writes:

Brian, I agree with much of what you have said. However, I suspect many would feel you have waived any right you have to call yourself a Libertarian, if you were inclined to do so.

From what you wrote, it appears that you simply don't value liberty over everything else, and unless I am much mistaken, that's practically the defining characteristic of Libertarianism.

I think Bryan's arguments have made it clear that Libertarians are quite outnumbered by people who like a few cherry-picked Libertarian principles but are not interested in paying the (possible) price of liberty for *all*. (And yes, I am among them.)

(Of course, the same applies among the "our duty is to help our fellow man" folks.)

MikeP writes:

It's been ruled unconstitutional for universally available public services -- specifically public schools and emergency medical care.

It is not at all unconstitutional for the cavalcade of targeted government support programs that are already restricted behind a litany of prerequisites, qualifications, and waiting periods. Adding one more requirement -- that you must be a citizen not born of immigrant parents and have resided in the US for 18 years -- should entirely eliminate the worry that immigrants are coming for the welfare.

Careless writes:
It's been ruled unconstitutional for universally available public services -- specifically public schools and emergency medical care.
Yeah, only free health care and free schooling.
Adding one more requirement -- that you must be a citizen not born of immigrant parents and have resided in the US for 18 years -- should entirely eliminate the worry that immigrants are coming for the welfare.
Aside from the tens of thousands of dollars a year in the free stuff you already mentioned.
MikeP writes:

Aside from the tens of thousands of dollars a year in the free stuff you already mentioned.

Immigrants come for the emergency rooms and awesome public schools.

It's better than "they come for our women," but only a little better.

Brian writes:

Tom West,

Well, I wouldn't call myself a libertarian (I'm not fond of ideological labels--too restrictive of my liberty to think independently). I'm merely someone with libertarian sympathies.

But putting that aside, I think there are plenty of good arguments from the libertarian side on why something like open borders is a good idea. It's just that claims that immigration laws restrict free exchange, or that they are fundamentally immoral, are not among the good arguments. Virtually all the exchange we do, whether social or economic, is nonlocal. WITH REGARD TO EXCHANGE, then, it is of little consequence whether a particular human being can stay here permanently (as a citizen).

Everyone should keep in mind that immigration is not about whether one can enter the country. Virtually anyone can do that on a temporary visitor's visa. Immigration is about whether one may pursue permanent residency and CITIZENSHIP. And citizenship, after all, is about entering into a special relationship with the government of a particular place.

I find it odd that those who want to reduce/eliminate government interference in our lives (an admirable goal) would argue so strongly for encouraging people to enter into a formal relationship with that government. If anything, they should cheer ILLEGAL immigration, since illegals are not constrained by the yolk of citizenship and, in some real sense, are the most free of us all.

Steve Z writes:

Also why on earth is Guthrie going on and on about the Hmong? By numbers they are the least successful Asian immigrant group. Heck, Clint Eastwood even made a movie about it.

guthrie writes:

One of the main reasons I question the morality of those who object to relaxed immigration is because the majority of those objectors don’t have legitimate objections. In order for the dire warnings from a typical objector to come true, not only would we need a welfare system with no requirements whatsoever, but we would also have to have no private property rights, no rule of law, no equal protection, and no common sense regarding people’s behavior. To say nothing of no imagination, no adaptability, and no entrepreneurial drive or solutions.

In short, they invent a world that does not exist to make those points. It’s not just a straw man, but a straw universe.

This is why it is my judgment that these arguments are largely irrational. The ‘logical’ objections are developed to cover or justify baser emotions, gut reactions, and fears that do not have rational underpinning. This is what I discovered about myself when I was brought to reflect on my traditional POV on immigration. I found my objections to increased immigration had more to do with xenophobia and jingoism, than with truly compelling and legitimate concerns. I found that my objections to immigration conflicted with my understanding of and my desire for freedom.

At any rate, it’s tiresome in the extreme to continue addressing the ‘Country as a House’ fallacy, along with its varieties and permutations. Any who object to the moral argument in favor of immigration and call for ‘a real discussion’ on this issue, would be well advised to drop this and all versions of this analogy entirely.

And the reason I brought up (and apparently, not merely responding to objections to my challenge, but going ‘on and on about’) the Hmong is that, even if they are the ‘least successful among Asian immigrants’, they are wildly more successful than they would have been had they been stopped at the border. It takes no clairvoyance or omniscience to observe a significant lack of the externality or free-rider or cultural problems so loved and decried by many objectors. The outcomes in this case simply don’t match the proposed consequences. Limited as it was, it was still a mass migration of foreign people to this country and should have ‘shocked the system’ if the dire warnings of such immigration are true. From fist hand experience, boots on the ground in the state in question, I report that it did not. This state did not suffer nearly as much as it has benefitted from the immigration of these foreigners. And those foreigners have exceedingly benefitted, beyond what might be available merely through public services. If this does not at least give you pause as a Restrictionist, then perhaps it is advisable to conduct some self-reflection?

Careless writes:
Immigrants come for the emergency rooms and awesome public schools.

It's better than "they come for our women," but only a little better.


a rather graceless "yes, I was completely wrong" post.

But, you know, aside from the most expensive and valuable social expenditures, what else is there?

Careless writes:

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MikeP writes:

a rather graceless "yes, I was completely wrong" post.

?

My claim is that emergency health care and public schools are not a draw for immigrants. The fact that these may be somewhat expensive in no way disproves that claim.

But, you know, aside from the most expensive and valuable social expenditures, ...

These are rather cheap, all things considered. All uncompensated medical care -- immigrant and citizen, emergency room and clinic -- amounts to less than $60 billion per year. That is a trifle out of the $2 trillion spent on health care in the US.

And schooling, too, is considered an investment in the adults of tomorrow. If it's not worth paying for the education of immigrants' children, surely it's not worth paying for citizens' children either. Of course, if immigrants raised children in the US and then took them home at age 18, you might have a point!

...what else is there?

That's a joke, right?

"What else" is the pension, health care, and welfare expenditures of federal and state governments -- almost half their total budgets -- virtually all untouchable under the rule that immigrants and their children cannot get targeted government services.

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