Bryan Caplan  

Tuesday Immigration Debate

Europe vs Uber... I'm a Liberal...
This Tuesday, Reason is hosting a DC debate on "Should America Open Its Borders?"  Cato's Alex Nowrasteh and I say yes; the Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian says no.

The Center for Immigration Studies' masthead reads, "Low-Immigration, Pro-Immigrant."  I've dissected this before, but here's a further thought.  Imagine telling your spouse, "I love your mother, but I want her to visit as rarely as possible."  Can you even say it aloud without laughing?  What you really mean is, "Your mother's insufferable, but as long as she's here, I'll try to be nice to her."

That's what the CIS slogan amounts to: Immigrants are insufferable, but as long as they're here, we'll try to be nice to them.

COMMENTS (18 to date)
Matt H writes:

Given that's how most people feel about their mother-in-laws, you're about to get spanked in this contest.

MikeP writes:

I'm as open borders as anybody, but I don't think your critique is fair. The CIS slogan amounts to: We are pro the few immigrants we want to have immigrate. The singular nature of a mother-in-law renders her a bad analogy.

A better analogy would be, "I love your in-laws, but only want the fun and helpful ones -- not the nags or layabouts -- to visit our house."

Steve Sailer writes:


Use the mother-in-law line. It's a sure winner -- the audience will be eating out of your hand.


MikeP writes:

A better analogy is to imagine an organization in the 1850s with the masthead "Low Emancipation, Pro Freedman".

What they mean is that there are a few slaves who, due to high skill or specialized capabilities, would contribute more to the US if they were free. This organization would support very limited emancipation of such slaves, probably through government administered standards with very strict quotas. And they would certainly be against fugitive slaves who violated the sovereignty of the US and cut in line in front of slaves following the process.

Unrestricted emancipation is of course out of the question for this organization. Millions of people suddenly added to the free labor force would drive down citizen wages, the effect on American culture would be profound, and almost every freed slave would vote liberal.

Regardless of the benefits of free labor and free association, what those crazy abolitionists advocate is economic, cultural, and political suicide. The Constitution is not a suicide pact.

Ted Levy writes:

What they mean is: "Mother-in-laws… A great value usually best appreciated from afar"

chipotle writes:

Why is this debate featuring two open borders advocates and only one proponent of closing the borders?

Doesn't this seem unfair?

BC writes:

@chipotle, Maybe, the closed-border side doesn't want to be overcrowded.

Mike H writes:

I called out Mark Krikorian on the website "Ricochet" a while back and, to my surprise, he joined in on the conversation. He was quite gracious considering I was being so critical. Unfortunately, it's behind a small paywall ($5/month), but I highly recommend it for any right-of-center intellectuals who enjoy civil conversation and commentary with a wide variety of views and interests.

MingoV writes:
"I love your mother, but I want her to visit as rarely as possible." Can you even say it aloud without laughing?
Absolutely. People often behave very differently when in a different environment. Visiting your mother-in-law in her home may be pleasant. Her visiting in your home may be a nightmare. She may criticize everything that's different from the way she does things. She may complain about trivial things like how the table is set or how throw pillows are arranged. Thus, you can love your mother-in-law, enjoy visiting her, and hate it when she visits you.
Peter writes:

How about a few sentences (analogy) something like...

I love your mother, but would like to know when she is coming to visit and expect her to leave when she says she will. Furthermore, if she comes here and facilitates the sale of heroine or other drugs, steals from us, or expects us to support her forever, we have the right to send her back where she came from. And if she wants to move in with us permanently, she must follow our house rules.

Is that really too much to ask?

MikeP writes:


Since it has no quota or other restriction on mother-in-law visiting temporarily or permanently, what you describe is pretty much open borders. So, no, it is not too much to ask -- although the fixation on victimless drug crime is a bit odd.

Scott Freelander writes:

There is no reason for debate. Unless I'm mistaken, there is no economic case to be made for restricting immigration.

Pajser writes:

Open borders optimize immigration policy for - openness of the borders. From left, Caplan's line is easily paraphrased "I love your mother, but I paid her doctor to leave." From right, one needs few words: crime, corruption, working class poverty.

Peter writes:


I am the son of an immigrant. Yes, I want people to come to the land of opportunity to make better lives for themselves. There need to be rules however, and rules that are followed and enforced.

You are living in denial if you think that the heroine drug epidemic is a victimless crime. I live in a northern state and we have a heroine tragedy going on. People are dying as the result of heroine use. And the heroine is traced directly back to Hispanic gangs who import it via smuggling and mules. These are not just US citizens dealing in illegal drugs, it is people here without citizenship. Do not believe me? The courts, jails, and prisons have plentiful examples of convicted immigrants from such crimes. Look into the demographics of California prisons if you want an eye opener.

Victimless crimes you say. Who is paying to incarcerate these people?

Dude, wake up.

MikeP writes:


I can't speak for northern states, but I do know that the heroine epidemic is rampant in Florida. In fact, starting today, there are Fastpasses to meet Elsa and Anna at Disney World.

As for heroin, are you sure that the "epidemic" and "tragedy" isn't simply the latest fact-free example of the media having a cow?

And I myself would hope nobody pays to incarcerate drug users or traders, since I don't think it should be a crime.

LD Bottorff writes:

Whether or not heroin use is a victimless crime, we should not be punishing people who want to come here to find work. Since this is an economics blog, I would expect the readers to understand about incentives and comparative advantage. Since our existing immigration policy provided an economic incentive for forming a network of smugglers (to smuggle people) it is to be expected that those smugglers would add drug smuggling to their people smuggling network.

Magus Janus writes:

Why not start with one county, as a trial. Pick a county, and say that county will operate under usual US law with one exception: from now on anyone in the world will be free to emigrate to that county (but NOT the rest of the US unless they're american citizens.

Let's see how that county looks in 5 years. Maybe I'm wrong and it'll be Hong Kong or Singapore, a thriving example of the benefits of the division of labor.

I'm guessing though that most/all the Americans in said county will leave it, and the conditions of life in said county will be like the conditions of the immigrants left to escape. Only subsidized now by the rest of the US.

Matt writes:

Is this really a 2 on 1 debate? seems unfair to me

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