Bryan Caplan  

The Naik Strategy

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An interesting Facebook post by the noble Vipul Naik, reprinted with his permission.  Vipul:


I think Bryan Caplan could have won the Intelligence Squared debate by pandering to his audience in the following ways:

(1) Stated that "America is a nation of immigrants."

(2) Talked about the Founding Fathers and the Constitution.

(3) Stated that immigration restrictions are racist.

(4) Waxed eloquent about Ellis Island.

(5) Talked about how awesome immigration is and what nice people immigrants are.

(6) Made the claim that open borders is no big deal, because, economic determinism suggests that migration flows aren't really affected by migration restrictions.

(7) Made the claim that open borders is no big deal. All it means is a little more migration from Mexico and Canada to the US, and that the people who already migrate have proper documentation, and quoted Alvaro Vargas Llosa as the authority on the subject.

(8) Endorsed minimum wage proposals as a complementary policy to creating a strong, ethnically diverse, and anti-racist American middle class.

(9) Pooh-poohed Unz's claims about a billion people as pie-in-the-sky racist scaremongering.

(10) Claimed that if America doesn't make migration easier, all the software programmers and gardeners and farmers will migrate to Canada or the UK instead. And we know how awful that would be for America.



Vipul adds:

btw, re: pandering, I think that points (1)-(4) are to quite an extent true, but non-central to the case for open borders. (5) is too vague to be true or false. I believe (6)-(10) are mostly false, but one could make reasonable arguments in favor of them in some circumstances. But to the extent they're true, they either oppose or are non-central to the case for open borders.



COMMENTS (9 to date)
Chris Koresko writes:

Bryan, from what I know of you from your writings, I doubt you'd be willing to adopt a strategy of dishonest pandering in your debate anyway.

John Smith writes:

To Bryan Caplan:

So, your point is that you are too noble to win by such pandering and therefore your debate loss is not a reflection of your ability, but rather a reflection of your nobility in not pandering?

Handle writes:

Ah, I think I understand this rhetorical strategy.

3. Racist!
4. Ellis Island
6&7. Ridiculous
8. Racist!
9. Racist!

Got it, thanks Vipul.

Vipul Naik writes:

Another follow-up comment I posted on Facebook (before Bryan published this on EconLog), just for clarification:

No [to the question of whether Bryan should have followed this strategy], because honesty is more important than winning. Bryan's not trying to win as a person, he's trying to preach the subject. And you can't preach the subject by lying (if he genuinely believed points (1)-(10) as correct and central to the case for open borders, it would be different).

There is arguably some ambiguity as to whether one should adopt a rhetorical strategy that focuses on points one personally considers correct but relatively unimportant or tangential, if doing so might appeal to the audience (point (1) may be one such example for Bryan). I think it wouldn't be unethical to choose to do so. But given Bryan's goals, I think it's better not to use this strategy, particularly when trying to change minds for the long term.

I wrote something related here.

Floccina writes:

11. Remind him that the Declaration of Independence says:
"He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands."

12. Remind them of what the inscription on the statue of liberty says.

13 Tell them that USA once had open borders.

johnleemk writes:

Handle:

Well it is objective fact that the US, Canada, Australia, and the UK all abolished open borders explicitly because of racist motivations. This is not terribly central to the case for open borders, but it is a reason to be more skeptical of existing border restrictions than one would be of other policies that lack such clearly racist reasons underpinning their original establishment.

[broken url with http typed twice fixed--Econlib Ed.]

Handle writes:

@johnleemk:

Yes, I understand the argument about original motivations of people who lived long ago. Fine. That's not my point.

My point is that there are plenty of non-racist reasons to support restrictionist / selectionist / non-open-borders policies; positions held by non-racist people of good faith - like Unz and Newland (or are they racists too?) - who get a bit tired of being falsely accused of racism. Though they are certainly used to it, because plenty of people are willing to levy the accusation willy-nilly.

Calling someone a racist has a special rhetorical power in our society, one that ends discussions and closes minds as opposed to encouraging engagement and consideration of arguments and evidence.

Naik must think that people are 1. Against racism, 2. Hold views without realizing they hold them solely for racist reasons, and 3. Would change their minds if only someone were to enlighten them as to the solely racist origin of those beliefs.

Instead, people (like Unz and Newland and me) hold these views for non-racist reasons, and when they hear Naik proclaim that they are just evil racists, they tend to put open-borders advocates in the same category as others who barely hesitate before making false-but-rhetorically-powerful accusations.

In the alternative, Naik could say, 'Hey, I know that you guys aren't racists, but you have to admit, your positions are the same as some awful racists. Do you really want to be associated with them. It'd be a shame if someone were to label you a racist just because of the company you keep, but you know, guilt by association is a deep human tendency."

To which I'd respond that scaring people off because of guilt by association is not actually an argument against their positions at all,and instead it is just a way to suppress the opposition by fear of social consequences.

johnleemk writes:

Vipul's been terribly clear that he doesn't endorse this approach; I'm not sure how you could have concluded otherwise, unless you skipped over large portions of the content on this webpage. Vipul's addendum in Bryan's post above:

btw, re: pandering, I think that points (1)-(4) are to quite an extent true, but non-central to the case for open borders. (5) is too vague to be true or false. I believe (6)-(10) are mostly false, but one could make reasonable arguments in favor of them in some circumstances. But to the extent they're true, they either oppose or are non-central to the case for open borders.

And more explicitly, his comment on this post:

No [to the question of whether Bryan should have followed this strategy], because honesty is more important than winning. Bryan's not trying to win as a person, he's trying to preach the subject. And you can't preach the subject by lying (if he genuinely believed points (1)-(10) as correct and central to the case for open borders, it would be different).

There is arguably some ambiguity as to whether one should adopt a rhetorical strategy that focuses on points one personally considers correct but relatively unimportant or tangential, if doing so might appeal to the audience (point (1) may be one such example for Bryan). I think it wouldn't be unethical to choose to do so. But given Bryan's goals, I think it's better not to use this strategy, particularly when trying to change minds for the long term.

The whole point of Vipul's drafting this strategy was to suggest that, if Bryan had been interested in pandering to various prejudices (as Unz and Newland quite clearly were -- taking the most egregious example, Unz started his opening remarks by directly pandering to anti-intellectual prejudice), Bryan could have had a better shot at winning the debate.

LD Bottorff writes:

Floccina,
As long as we're quoting the Declaration of Independence, we might as well add "We hold these truths to be self evident, that all men are created equal, endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights,that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness."
I don't consider myself much of an idealist, but there are a few subjects on which I hold to ideals. This is one.
And I thank you for reminding us that our founders saw immigration restrictions as harmful to us.

Bryan,
Thanks for keeping your part of the debate honest.

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