Bryan Caplan  

Open Borders Day is Starting

George Soros, speculator and p... Immigration: My Eyes Work Fine...
March 16 is Open Borders Day, an international holiday to raise awareness of the single most important policy issue of the modern world.  Open Borders Day is a time to reflect on the many immigrants - legal and illegal - that we see all around us - and to contrast their value with the callous and cruel treatment they endure in virtual silence.  More importantly, it is a time to reflect on the far more numerous immigrants you can't see.  Why not?  Because virtually every country on Earth considers being born in the wrong country a crime worthy of lifelong exile.

Blog, Facebook, Tweet, and otherwise publicize under #OpenBordersDay.  I'll do a round-up of the best of Open Borders Day when the day is done.

COMMENTS (13 to date)
Pajser writes:

I tried to show that open borders harm those in the worst position, i.e. citizens of the poor countries who do not migrate. Although some counterarguments are valid (remittance, lack of empirical confirmation for brain drain), i don't think the effect can be nullified in all cases. So, USA opens its borders, Tanzanian physicians move to USA. As Tanzania already has few physicians, many Tanzanians are harmed. How it happened that noble goal of open borders has such a tragic outcome? It appears there are three necessary and independent factors. If only one is missing there is no tragic outcome.

(1) Unequal distribution of wealth. Typical for all systems except for hypothetical socialism on the world level. (2) Selfish motivation. People value their breast implants more than life of the citizens of the poor countries. Typical for humanity. (3) Competition for scarce resource (here: the work of Tanzanian physicians.) The price of work increases and poor cannot afford it any more. Typical for free market. Open borders result in such competition.

Hana writes:

I now understand why you post so frequently regarding open borders. You sincerely believe it is the 'single most important policy issue of the modern world'. While I disagree with you regarding its importance, I completely respect your earnestness.

MingoV writes:

We cannot let in every person who thinks life in his country sucks. It would be far more fruitful to spend efforts on a fair and competent government campaign. It would be a lot easier to fix 150 governments than to take in three billion people.

Once that is done, it would be easy to have open borders for two reasons: First, far fewer people would need to emigrate and Second, there would be so many livable nations that emigration would flow in all directions, not just to a handful of nations.

Mark writes:

Pajser, just a word about proving the claim that quotas hurt vulnerable people in poor countries. I think you bring about an interesting objection and it was mentioned in Paul Collier's book, but do you have any empirical examples of it? A good type of example would be instances where there are two roughly similar, poor groups of people where one is suddenly allowed to migrate and the other is not. You would then show that the poor group that couldn't migrate was better off.

There is a wealth of empirical evidence of how immigrants send remittances to their home country so we already know that immigration can't be all bad for the people in the home country.

Your hypothesis may, though, be true so on balance immigration is bad for the country--but your case needs a smoking gun--some instance where economic conditions really deteriorated in a country when some immigration opportunity opened up that previously wasn't available. At the moment your arguments simply make such a possibility plausible and potentially worth investigating, but far from convincing.

Ebsim writes:

I can't imagine what my life would have been like if my family hadn't immigrated from Libya in 2004 after sanctions were lifted, Canada has been heaven compared to Libya.

Pajser writes:

Mark, maybe I do not need much of empirical evidences, because my claim is weak: that ideal immigration policy is case-by-case analysis for each potential immigrant or group of immigrants, intended for maximization of a given goal, say, benefit of the world poor. Caplan's policy is universal, open borders for all potential immigrants. It is unlikely that "one size for all" gives better results. If it does, burden of proof is more on Caplan's side; his critics need only reasonable doubt.

It is hard to find evidence you'd like, because if countries have different emigration policies, likely many other policies are different. But Tanzanian case is something like evidence. It is real. WHO claims that country has severe shortage of physicians (~1000 in country of 40 millions) and migration (more than ~1000 work abroad) is believed to be one of the reasons, even without open borders. It is also believed that OECD countries benefit at the expense of taxpayers in Tanzania., (Juma et al., "Brain Drain of Health Professionals in Tanzania", 2012 ...)

Still, open borders are valuable long term goals.

Mark writes:

Thanks Pajser. I read the paper which was here, but it didn't have an argument or claim about causation: i.e. emigration of X number of individuals meant that there was a certain quantifiable reduction in health. The only quantified burden discussed (on page 8) was the lost investment by the government in training doctors. There is definitely much evidence of shortages, but I don't see a causal claim here. One reason why a causal argument is important is that it could be the case that if doctors were not free to emigrate then fewer people would become doctors so there would still be a shortage, additionally, even with more doctors its possible that other problems having to do with the hospitals and access to care might prevent vulnerable people from receiving the benefits of any extra doctors (problems of the latter type were mentioned in the paper).

I agree, though, that your claim is weak and the burden of proof is for open-borders supporters to show address all consequences of all different types of migrations. I don't really see how the theoretical argument advanced and the accompanying paper are sufficient to make your claim very convincing. Although, they do certainly indicate that its a pressing matter for Tanzania to understand this issue more thoroughly.

woupeistek writes:


You position is not weak at all. If poor people in Tanzania need more physicians, then the US can help out by deporting its own instead of banning Tanzanian ones. The US contributes more to the training of American physicians and this makes forced deportations more just. This more just policy is clearly evil however.

John Thacker writes:
It would be far more fruitful to spend efforts on a fair and competent government campaign. It would be a lot easier to fix 150 governments than to take in three billion people.

No, I think it would be a lot harder. It is especially much harder to fix governments when the governed are unable to leave.

Similarly, it seems unlikely that with open borders that Pajser's position would hold. Would not the poorest and worst off be more likely to try to leave to somewhere else? (Noting of course that not everyone would try to leave either, so the claim of 3 billion migrating seems unlikely.) Being well off in a poorer country can still be rather pleasant.

Pajser's position seems like a claim against an immigration policy that lets only the high-skilled immigrate, but not the low-skilled. It doesn't seem like an argument against open borders, however.

Daublin writes:

@MingoV, there's no obvious way to improve foreign governments. To contrast, open borders is a way to help many millions of people, and all it means is that we do *less* than we do right now.

@Pasjer, the same could be said of any hell hole on earth, whether it be made by bad governance or by some other reason. The first solution to hell holes is to leave the hell hole.

Overall, we don't really know how to build a good society. What we can do, though, is try a few things, and then migrate toward what works. This is only possible if people are, in fact, allowed to migrate.

MingoV writes:

@Daublin: The obvious way to improve dictatorial and kleptocratic governments is to eliminate them and install something better. It's called colonialism.

Jeff writes:

I have a related question (that likely cannot be precisely answered): what proportion of Venezuela's economic troubles is attributable to bad governmental policies and what part is attributable to brain drain (including capital flight)?

This seems like it could be an interesting case study as over the last ~15 years a large number of the well-off emigrated.

Bill writes:

1. Are there any costs, to the host nation, associated with the construction of your one-world utopia?

2. How much would it cost?

3. Who would bear the burden of any "theoretical" costs?

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