Bryan Caplan  

Meant for Each Other: Open Borders and Western Civilization

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Last night I debated Stephen Balch of Texas Tech's Institute for the Study of Western Civilization.  Here's my opening statement.


Meant for Each Other: Open Borders and Western Civilization

The Institute for the Study of Western Civilization has a powerful statement on its webpage: "Western civilization has remade the world. Most of the West's inhabitants live lives of which their ancestors could only dream: doubly long, rich in diet, teeming with comforts and diversions, and, most of all, endowed with the gift of liberty--not just for a privileged few, but for the many." 

Reading this passage, I found myself, as Keynes told Hayek, "not only in agreement, but in deeply moved agreement."  Unfortunately, the Institute's fine words embody a major oversight: In the current world, Western civilization still only belongs to the privileged few.  Most of the world's inhabitants are not born in Western nations - and Western nations' laws make it almost impossible for more than a tiny minority to immigrate to prosperity and freedom.

My position: The world's nations - including of course the United States - should abolish their immigration laws.  Anyone willing to pay for transportation should be able to travel here legally, anyone willing to pay for housing should be able to live here legally, and anyone who finds a willing employer should be able to work here legally. 

If I can't sell you on this radical open borders position, though, I won't get mad.  Instead, I'll be an economist, trying to bargain you into as much deregulation of immigration as you can stomach.

Why should we grant foreigners the rights to travel, live, and work where they want?  The same reason we should grant these rights to women, blacks, and Jews: They're human beings and they count.  Is this asking too much?  No.  I'm not proposing that we give foreigners homes or jobs.  I'm proposing that we allow foreigners to earn these worldly goods from willing native landlords and employers.  Under current law, housing and employment discrimination against foreigners isn't just legal; it's mandatory.  Why?  Because the foreigners chose the wrong parents.  How horrible is that?

Of course, plenty of horrible-sounding things are actually good.  Like amputating a leg with gangrene.  Are immigration restrictions like that?  Maybe.  So let's consider the leading complaints about immigration.  For each complaint, I answer two questions.  First, how real is the problem?  Second, assuming the problem is real, are there cheaper and more humane remedies than lifelong exile from Western civilization?

The leading complaint is probably that mass immigration leads to poverty.  Virtually every economist who's thought about this reaches the opposite conclusion: Open borders would massively enrich the world.  A typical estimate is that free migration would DOUBLE global GDP.  Why?  Because the status quo traps most of the world's labor in dysfunctional economies where people produce at a fraction of their full potential.  Moving a Haitian to the U.S. easily increases his output by a factor of twenty.  Hard to believe?  How much could you produce in Haiti?

Would a massive influx of foreign labor drive down native living standards?  It depends on what the native does.  Immigration of workers who produce what you produce hurts you.  Immigration of workers who produce what you consume helps you. 

New immigration is like new technology.  Driverless cars will be bad for taxi drivers, but enrich everyone else.  The net effect, as the history of Western civilization plainly shows, is clear-cut: Mass production is the mother of general prosperity.  Still worried?  There's a cheaper and more humane remedy than keeping foreigners out: Charge them an admission fee or surtax, then use the proceeds to help displaced native workers.

The second most popular complaint is that mass immigration is a massive burden on taxpayers.  Milton Friedman himself famous declared, "You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state."  The social science, however, tells a different story: The average immigrant pays about as much in taxes as he uses in benefits. 

If this seems hard to believe, consider two things.  First, other countries have already paid for adult immigrants' education, so we don't have to.  Second, a lot of government services - most obviously defense and debt service - can be consumed by a larger population for no extra charge.  Still worried?  There's a cheaper and more humane remedy than keeping foreigners out: Make them eligible to work but not collect benefits.

Another complaint, which I suspect has great resonance at the Institute for the Study of Western Civilization, is that immigrants harm our culture.  The data on English fluency is fairly clear: While many first-generation immigrants are not fluent, second-generation immigrants almost always are. 

Broader measures of culture are harder to pin down, but I'll say this: Western culture already dominates the global marketplace.  Nationalists around the world use cultural protectionism to "level the playing field," but most local cultures keep losing.  The obvious reason: Western culture is better, so people around the world choose it when it's on the menu.  Part of the reason it's better, I hasten to add, is the West's openness to awesomeness.  Anything good can join the Western bandwagon.  That's why Arabic numerals are a triumph of Western civilization. 

My challenge to the fans of Western culture: Given its current global success, imagine how much more dominant Western culture would be if people around the world were free to vote with their feet for whatever culture they prefer.  Still worried?  There's a cheaper and more humane remedy than keeping foreigners out: Admit anyone who passes a cultural literacy test.

A final common complaint is that immigrants will vote for bad policies - transforming our country into one of the dysfunctional societies they fled.  Here, the data do show that the foreign-born are more economically liberal and socially conservative; they are, in a word, less libertarian.  But the difference is moderate, and the foreign-born have very low voter turnout anyway.  Furthermore, there is good evidence that ethnic diversity reduces native support for the welfare state.  This is a standard story about why the U.S. welfare state is smaller than Europe's: We're a lot more diverse, and people don't like supporting outgroups.  The net political effect of immigration, then, is unclear.  The data, moreover, show little effect.  For every California, there's a Texas.  Still worried?  There's a cheaper and more humane remedy than keeping foreigners out: Admit them to live and work but not to vote.

I won't sugarcoat things.  Free migration is a radical change.  But radical change in the direction of human freedom is as Western as Shakespeare.  Freedom of religion was a radical change.  Abolition of slavery was a radical change.  Ending Jim Crow was a radical change.  Before they were tried, people feared that such radical changes would destroy Western civilization.  After the changes were tried, though, people realized that state religion, slavery, and mandatory discrimination were never compatible with Western civilization's commitment to individual freedom. 

Imagine how you would react if the world's governments denied you the right to live and work where you please because you chose the wrong parents.  Does that sound like the glory of Western civilization to you?  I think not.  Western civilization cannot realize its full potential as long as Western governments require discrimination against most of mankind.  Open borders will bring Western civilization to the world by bringing the world to Western civilization.  Open borders and Western civilization are meant for each other.



COMMENTS (32 to date)
Pithlord writes:

Professor Caplan fails to recognize that an economic transaction is always a political problem solved. IF you could maintain win-win political institutions, then any addition of people would be good for them and good for the native population. But it is a leap of faith to think you could maintain those institutions regardless of the magnitude and speed of change to the population.

"Western civilization" is a mix of institutions and cultural norms. Institutions and cultural norms are necessarily instantiated in the interactions between a particular group of people. If you change the group of people, then you change the institutions and cultural norms. If you change them rapidly, you could easily destroy them.

To put it another way, Haiti (which is surely largely a product of Western civilization, since none of its population would be there but for the decisions of Western Europeans) has the cultural norms and institutions it does not because of where it is located on the globe, but because of the history of the population that lives there. If a small group from Haiti enters the US or Canada, we may expect that they will adapt to the norms and institutions they find, with relatively minor changes to the larger culture they join. But it doesn't follow that if everyone from Haiti entered the physical space of the US or Canada, they wouldn't just reproduce Haiti.

I also think you understate the problem created if you contemplate a long-term population that lives and works in a "democracy" but never gets to vote there. That is also known as apartheid. I realize you don't think much of democracy, but you have the problem that there are no economic transactions unless the political problem is solved.

If you argue that the existing institutions of Western countries would be resilient to increased immigration, I would agree. But you don't acknowledge that this resilience must have some limits and that we have no good reason to be sure of where those limits are.

Steve Sailer writes:

The United States should simply annex the rest of the globe. Then there won't be any foreign countries, just rebel provinces to be pacified.

DJ writes:

Bryan, this is a great piece.

The point about people choosing Western civilization when it's available is a good one; I hadn't thought of it before.

It's both amusing and frustrating that your opponents (even here in the comments) don't even seem to acknowledge the concessions you make to them.

If you're worried that foreigners will destroy our culture and institutions, please explain why the status quo is better than Bryan's "make admittance dependent on passing a cultural literacy test" and "allow immigrants in but don't allow them to vote" ideas.

Take this comment as encouragement to continue promoting open borders here on EconLog and elsewhere!

Steve Sailer writes:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace...

You may say I'm a dreamer
But I'm not the only one
I hope someday you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people
Sharing all the world...

johnleemk writes:
If a small group from Haiti enters the US or Canada, we may expect that they will adapt to the norms and institutions they find, with relatively minor changes to the larger culture they join. But it doesn't follow that if everyone from Haiti entered the physical space of the US or Canada, they wouldn't just reproduce Haiti.
Why not? It's pretty hard to reproduce Haitian institutions when doing so would be illegal. Immigration controls are not the key legal barrier which prevented Papa Doc ruling over a community of a few million in the US. No, the meaningful constraint there was and is that if anyone tried to institutionalise some kind of extralegal rule over a group of people in the US's territory, the US government would step in. (Just look what happened to David Koresh in Waco.)
If you argue that the existing institutions of Western countries would be resilient to increased immigration, I would agree. But you don't acknowledge that this resilience must have some limits and that we have no good reason to be sure of where those limits are.
Two points:
  1. The US and other Western countries are not at risk of having their institutions overthrown, replaced, or supplanted by immigrants. When you try to find empirical backing for the anti-immigrant hysteria in much of Europe, you find yourself grasping at straws. Look into the stories about the looming spectre of sharia law, and you find it to be petty things, such as people complaining about a Muslim franchisee of Subway taking pork off the menu, or the San Francisco airport setting aside a small portion of the parking lot for Muslim taxi drivers to do their ritual ablutions.
  2. To the extent that open borders have to be incrementally implemented, this is a cost of the closed borders regime. If we'd never closed our borders, there wouldn't be massive pent-up flows of potential immigrants who'd jump at the chance to leave their country as soon as possible. These pent-up flows have built up because they've been forced away by our guns and our walls. If we'd never put the walls up, there wouldn't be a massive adjustment problem to begin with. Note that this is not to say that there would be zero adjustment problems in the medium or longer-run. But those problems would in all likelihood be solvable by immigration controls far less strict than anything in place today.

Also note that Bryan's discussed on this blog in the past how diaspora dynamics would organically restrain immigration flows and naturally make them more gradual than one would expect: the diasporas of Puerto Rico and to a lesser degree Cuba are good examples of this.

Colin K writes:

DJ:

Prof. Caplan's concessions might carry more weight if they seemed more rooted in the very messy world this debate actually takes place in. What are the odds any cultural literacy test will actually be enacted? And what are the odds it would mean anything? I could pass a Soviet literacy test, but it doesn't mean I believe in Marxist-Leninist government. Likewise, we're currently talking about a "path to citizenship" for a generation of people who hopped the border after the Reagan amnesty, which was to be the last of its kind. So sure, the new entrants don't get a vote now, but wait twenty years. You can't have a large population of permanently disenfranchised residents and expect that to turn out well.

The one upside of an open borders type policy is that it would greatly diversify the pool of immigrants. Right now it is fairly overwhelmingly poor and lightly-educated people who can make their way over the border and dwell in the economic shadows. Meanwhile, people looking for higher-skilled jobs, and from parts of the world that require an airplane to reach, really are restricted to legal channels.

johnleemk writes:

BTW Steve Sailer may be posting tongue-in-cheek here but I think he is making a very good point when he juxtaposes border controls with imperialism. It is extremely rich that colonial powers drew most of the boundaries in the world today, and expect the rest of the world to observe them as if these boundaries are divinely-ordained, sacrosanct, and inviolable. Millions of people in Africa and Asia especially live subject to borders which were drawn up without rhyme or reason beyond whatever was convenient to the occupying imperial power. (The official who drew the border between India and Pakistan intentionally spent as little effort and time as possible in the endeavour because he felt this would somehow be "fairer". Unsurprisingly, the border literally tore communities and sometimes buildings in half.)

I'm not an anarchist and I don't advocate "no borders". But to me, the insistence that borders must be sealed against organic human movement is simply another form in which imperialism continues to harm millions of people around the world today.

Note as well that most of the arguments against immigration rest on the mistaken belief that border controls promote the general welfare of citizens of destination countries. But let's assume otherwise: let's grant that somehow it is harmful to let people who would sometimes literally crawl through sewers of human waste to do your country's grimiest and least desirable jobs are actually a net drain on your society. What advocates of sealed borders are saying then is: "We have the right to deploy warships and armed men to use violent force on unarmed civilians who would gladly subject themselves to our rule and do our dirtiest jobs. We are entitled to use such force here because it is for the general welfare and benefit of our citizens." How is this any different from what the imperialists of old did to foreigners of other nations?

In fact, how is it not worse? In many cases, imperialists used violent force on people who were violently fighting their rule. (Put aside for the moment the moral principle of self-determination.) In the case of sealed borders, immigration restrictionists would have us use violent force on people who want to peacefully subject themselves to the rule of their country and its institutions.

Imperialism was, in many if not most cases, horrendously economically wasteful and utterly inhumane. To me, arbitrary border controls are hardly any different.

Sieben writes:

@Pithlord

Look, if you're worried that these people are going to be unlibertarian, I have good news. You don't owe unlibertarian people rights. I don't see why you owe someone who wants to impose Sharia law on the world free passage.

Dan Hill writes:

Current immigration policy isn't rational even if you accept as true every objection made by critics of open borders.

Why do wealthy western countries impose any limits on immigration from other wealthy, western countries (apart from perhaps checking to keep criminals out)?

Seriously, why doesn't the US simply open its borders at least to Canada, UK, Australia, New Zealand, Ireland etc? (same principle applies to Western Europe, Japan etc, although there is a language issue there, so I will keep it simple by focusing on English speaking countries).

What bad thing would supposedly happen in this scenario?

BJ Terry writes:

It doesn't at all surprise me that open immigration is a policy idea that fails to have traction from any large political group. The currently immigration policy, broadly defined, is a schelling point. And both sides fear the extremely uncertain consequences of straying from it.

For social welfare advocates, the current welfare state on the typical Western democracy is near the edge of affordability (at least in terms of political cost, it's the most they can afford, if not financial costs). Providing open borders with the agreement that immigrants (and presumably any children they have otherwise the idea collapses) wouldn't receive benefits is rhetorically untenable for their stated positions. Having open borders makes it harder for them to expand the welfare state as it significantly increases the costs at the current level of benefits.

For modern conservatives, the idea that immigrants may be allowed in without receiving any benefits is seen as an obvious ruse. There is no way for policymakers to make a credible commitment to such a policy, and they would fully expect the undermining or dismantling of any such commitment to begin either immediately or at the next change of the political winds. The social benefits provided by governments have been on a steady upward trajectory for hundreds of years, so this is a slippery slope where they're already halfway down the hill.

With respect to the cultural risks, the argument that it won't negatively affect current voters because people choose Westernism when it's on the menu is extremely qualitative and subject to Knightian uncertainty. It may only take a tiny percentage change in the culture of a population to dramatically decrease the satisfaction of its current members, so even if the vast majority immediately ordered Westernism at Café Culturel, the fraction who didn't may be sufficient to counteract all of the well-being benefits to the average voter in the short term. This is an unknown unknown, currently. It's not as clear to me that this particular complaint affects all ends of the political spectrum equally, but I suspect that it exists for the majority of voters.

As for political power, it has similar difficulties to the other two complaints. There is no credible way to commit to immigrants not having voting power (as in the case of welfare benefits). And if they did form a significant voting bloc (or, assuming they can't vote, formed a donation bloc or otherwise wielded more relative political power), and assuming that political power is finite, their interests will take away resources from the interests of any current political actors.

Personally, I think open borders would probably be a net win, but I wouldn't be willing to commit America to it at current levels of uncertainty. I think the best move would be for a coalition of Western nations to sponsor a particular Western nation to adopt a radical open borders effort and see what the outcome is (there has to be SOME nation that would do it for some level of payment and/or treaty concessions, and given the enormous upside the value of such information is high). Of course, this would be even more unprecedented than open borders and so will almost certainly never occur, and an experiment on culture doesn't work at small scales.

Handle writes:

Could we have a 'Caplan Debates' page? One consolidated and regularly updated website with all the debates, transcripts, videos, and especially a schedule so we can attend if we are in the area? That'd be really helpful. Thanks.

QueenA writes:

"Why should we grant foreigners the rights to travel, live, and work where they want? The same reason we should grant these rights to women, blacks, and Jews: They're human beings and they count."

I guess white men don't count. Where do they factor in? The omission is glaring.

Milo Minderbinder writes:

It's a nice idea that we could exclude immigrants from collecting government benefits, but it's politically unrealistic.

http://articles.philly.com/2014-05-04/news/49611695_1_asian-immigrants-clients-plan

This woman has been in the US for 3 years and knows 3 words of English. Her ObamaCare monthly premium is $.27 (That 27 CENTS!)

She also has 2 kids. Hubby works, but if they are qualifying for ACA subsidies there is no way he is paying anything close to what the kids are costing the public schools.

And to stop immigrants from getting free public schooling, a legislation isn't good enough. You'd need a constitutional amendment.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plyler_v._Doe

Lynn Atherton Bloxham writes:

Great article and interesting comments. The arguments for Open Borders is critical and those of us who support freedom of movement have quite an uphill battle. For both moral and economic reasons though it is an idea whose time has come.
Thanks for the thoughtful additional reasons for supporting it.

NZ writes:

@Johnleemk, who wrote:

...immigration restrictionists would have us use violent force on people who want to peacefully subject themselves to the rule of their country and its institutions.
1. Illegal immigrants have already demonstrated they are willing to break the rules of this country, starting with our immigration laws (and ours are already relatively lax compared to those of other countries).

2. Perhaps you see the very existence of immigration laws, even those which permit immigration through a controlled process, as "violent force". But then why not see all other laws this way? The logical conclusion of that reasoning is anarchy, and you said you are not an anarchist.

3. I think you're a rational person who is observing reality, so I think you'll agree that not all immigrants are the same. Some (once they're here at least) do indeed want to peacefully subject themselves to our laws and institutions (for brevity I will call these "good" immigrants), while many others do not ("bad" immigrants).

And because many immigrants come from countries whose laws and institutions are very different from ours and come here and live in enclaves with their own kind, they will tend to resist subjecting themselves to our laws and institutions. (This is not a controversial opinion, but a readily observable pattern.) So, there is already a well-established force pushing many immigrants against subjecting to our laws and institutions, keeping the number of "bad" immigrants high.

The breakdown between "good" and "bad" immigrants may be a subject of contention, but there is a point where trying to keep out all is the best insurance against trying to keep out the bad. (It's the same principle behind why some businesses do not allow the public to use their restrooms, for instance.)

As Steve Sailer suggested in a comment on another of Bryan's blog entries, open borders would be viable only with nationwide, totalitarian levels of private controls, zoning ordinances, etc. like those keeping the population density comfortably low (and the quality of residents comfortably high) in Oakton, VA.

johnleemk writes:
For modern conservatives, the idea that immigrants may be allowed in without receiving any benefits is seen as an obvious ruse. There is no way for policymakers to make a credible commitment to such a policy, and they would fully expect the undermining or dismantling of any such commitment to begin either immediately or at the next change of the political winds. The social benefits provided by governments have been on a steady upward trajectory for hundreds of years, so this is a slippery slope where they're already halfway down the hill.
The US already admits plenty of foreigners and denies them benefits. You can never get benefits if you're living and working here on just about any non-green card visa -- F-1, H-1B, you name it. Green card holders cannot obtain most federal benefits for at least 5 years after they immigrate. For the most expensive benefits (Social Security and Medicare), they need to work at least 10 years to be eligible. Most of these provisions have been the case for a very long time, except for the five-year rule which dates back roughly two decades. There's no evidence these rules are politically unstable or likely to change. If anything, an influx of immigrants would be expected to harden people's attitudes about giving much in the way of anything to these newcomers.

Look at other Western or developed countries who have plenty of immigrants. Virtually all of them discriminate in some way against immigrants in terms of access to benefits. And again, there is zero sign of letting up on these curtailments. It is far easier to both justify and implement restrictions on immigrant access to government benefits than it is to do the same for restricting immigrant movement.

It's a nice idea that we could exclude immigrants from collecting government benefits, but it's politically unrealistic.

http://articles.philly.com/2014-05-04/news/49611695_1_asian-immigrants-clients-plan

This woman has been in the US for 3 years and knows 3 words of English. Her ObamaCare monthly premium is $.27 (That 27 CENTS!)

She also has 2 kids. Hubby works, but if they are qualifying for ACA subsidies there is no way he is paying anything close to what the kids are costing the public schools.

She's a refugee from Myanmar. Refugees are subject to different rules for federal benefits than regular immigrants. It's nothing to do with the political process or appetite for giving benefits to immigrants -- it's everything to do with the politics of handling refugees. My personal preference -- as far as what I think would be politically-viable -- would be to cut back on (not necessarily eliminate, though I'd be fine with that too) benefit access for refugees, and admit far more of them + creating a guest worker program and assessing a surtax on those economic immigrants to pay for the costs of providing welfare to refugees. This sort of true comprehensive immigration reform is far too humane and sensible, which is why of course nobody in government (left or right) has any interest in it.
johnleemk writes:
Illegal immigrants have already demonstrated they are willing to break the rules of this country, starting with our immigration laws (and ours are already relatively lax compared to those of other countries).
Breaking rules in of itself does not demonstrate you are a habitual law-breaker. If you drive, you probably drive over the speed limit quite often -- even if only by 1 or 2mph. Does that make you a habitual reckless driver?

The US's immigration policy towards Cubans already implements a loose form of open borders for lawbreakers: if you are a Cuban on a boat at sea, the US government turns you back. If you are a Cuban on a boat that's landed on US soil, the US government basically hands you a green card. (I am not making this up -- look up "wet foot, dry foot".) Are these Cubans present here -- in technical violation of US border law -- habitual lawbreakers?

Also, the notion that the US's immigration law is particularly liberal is quite laughable. The US provides no ongoing legal process or mechanism for illegal immigrants to regularise their status. Many other Western countries do (some of these countries, like Spain, have in fact gotten quite upset about organisations like the EU trying to dissuade them from regularising their illegal immigrants). The US has no meaningful guest worker program (except for the H-2 visas which limit guest worker stays to very limited periods and is only aimed at the agricultural industry). Many other countries, Western and non-Western, have guest worker programs. And I don't even need to talk about provisions for skilled migration, where virtually everyone agrees that the US system is far too restrictive. (Although some restrictionists persist in cherrypicking instances of H-1B abuse to argue that the US already admits too many H-1Bs.)

Perhaps you see the very existence of immigration laws, even those which permit immigration through a controlled process, as "violent force". But then why not see all other laws this way?
Most laws don't permit the government to treat you as an invader or violent criminal simply because you're doing a legal job or providing a safe home for your family. The way virtually all governments treat immigration lawbreakers is disgusting. Australia, which is one of the more liberal Western countries on immigration, literally detains asylum-seekers in concentration camp-style. (Asylum-seekers, note, are not illegal immigrants or law-breakers, because it is legal under international law and the law of virtually all developed/Western countries to cross borders and request asylum.)

If we are to punish people for violating borders at all, my proposal would be to impose a fine, and force them to re-enter through a legal checkpoint. Don't enact bars on re-entry (the US government automatically bars people who've been deported, and in some cases even some people who've been present illegally but voluntarily leave, from re-entering for at least 10 years, irrespective of circumstances) and don't punish them with jail time. Certainly don't treat them as if they're some form of invading army.

All of the above is for peaceful, unarmed immigrants of course. People who cross borders to engage in illegal activities such as drug running, arms importation, etc., are a different matter. But last I checked, nobody suggests free-trade advocates want AK-47s and nuclear weapons and smallpox viruses to cross borders freely. Neither do open borders advocates expect governments to tolerate violent border crossers.

Some (once they're here at least) do indeed want to peacefully subject themselves to our laws and institutions (for brevity I will call these "good" immigrants), while many others do not ("bad" immigrants).

And because many immigrants come from countries whose laws and institutions are very different from ours and come here and live in enclaves with their own kind, they will tend to resist subjecting themselves to our laws and institutions. (This is not a controversial opinion, but a readily observable pattern.) So, there is already a well-established force pushing many immigrants against subjecting to our laws and institutions, keeping the number of "bad" immigrants high.

The laws of many Western countries, the US included, already provide for deportation of foreign lawbreakers. Anyone who resists a just law should be met with proportional punishment. There is nothing controversial about this. What is controversial to me is treating all foreigners as if they must in very large proportion, if not by definition, be bad people.

Every time someone makes this point on EconLog, I ask them to point me to an example of a substantial immigrant community illegally resisting the laws of the country they live in, and who the lawful government refuses to act against. Every time I'm met with silence.

The breakdown between "good" and "bad" immigrants may be a subject of contention, but there is a point where trying to keep out all is the best insurance against trying to keep out the bad.
In theory, yes. Nobody has presented any evidence that current immigration flows are at, or likely to reach in the near future, any such theoretical point.
J writes:

I would also like to chime in that adult immigrants likely contribute as much as they take in benefits, but only if you exclude their children.

I think many people have issues with unskilled immigrants who have fertility rates twice the native population using a large amount of services. Moreover, there is evidence that while unskilled immigrants have lower unemployment and criminality than the general population, the opposite is true for their offspring.

Also, 23 percent of the United States are first or second generation immigrants. What percent would overwhelm our current institutions (political or cultural)?

Bryan, first generation immigrants have very low criminality about 0.68% incarceration rate for men (comparable to white native born criminality). However, second generation immigrants have much higher criminality, >5% for many nationalities. See http://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/debunking-myth-immigrant-criminality-imprisonment-among-first-and-second-generation-young/ What is your solution/offer to those who are worried about high second generation criminality?

J writes:

Edit to my above post, native born white male criminality is closer to 1.7%, both much higher than first generation immigrants (.68%), and much lower than second generation immigrants (>5.0%).

Massimo writes:

What is frustrating is that any good counter argument goes ignored in the comments. Caplan just keeps repeating his same arguments and shouting them from the roof tops, and tuning out the counter points.

"I'm not proposing that we give foreigners homes or jobs. I'm proposing that we allow foreigners to earn these worldly goods from willing native landlords and employers."

For a certain class of skilled labor this is fully applicable and logical.

How about the boat migrations to Europe? The people don't have money to rent with and no job offers, and they even require rescue from their unsafe boats. Host countries can either turn them away or provide charity accommodations. Italy is shouting from the roof tops about this issue with handling massive boat migrations from Africa. Caplan is obviously aware of this but willfully ignores.

"Because the foreigners chose the wrong parents. How horrible is that?"

That is how life works. Caplan takes this equal opportunity as a base given axiom. I oppose it. I absolutely don't think all children should have equal opportunity, and that sounds mean at first, but if you think it through, it's quite logical.

Why are some kids born to horrible parents and others born to great parents? Why are some children born with more desirable genetics than others? Why are some individuals born as insects or mice rather than humans? Why do some eggs never even get the chance to be born at all. Some of these may sound silly, but I would argue the premise of fully equal opportunity is equally silly.

"Ending Jim Crow was a radical change."

Most of use are taught that Jim Crow and white on black racism is a fundamental evil. I would argue that some of Jim Crow is actually reasonable. Why don't whites have the right to separate and "bubble"? People informally "bubble" all the time. There are varying levels of anti-white hostility in much of US black culture -- what makes that better? President Obama sought out and supported radical black nationalists that were wildly hateful of white people and culture. It's not fashionable to acknowledge this stuff but it is real. Some blacks are great people, but whites are frequently less welcomed in black neighborhoods and it is often an unspoken tabboo for a white man to even walk through certain black neighborhoods. It's often a mutually unspoken agreement that white people stay out of certain black neighborhoods in Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia, and Florida. That hasn't destroyed civilization yet, but it's clearly a negative for whites and they should be concerned about it.

johnleemk writes:
The people don't have money to rent with and no job offers, and they even require rescue from their unsafe boats. Host countries can either turn them away or provide charity accommodations. Italy is shouting from the roof tops about this issue with handling massive boat migrations from Africa.
Regarding boat people, they wouldn't require rescue from unsafe boats if governments would allow them to purchase passage on safe boats or planes. (Even if you are a genuine refugee with the right to asylum in a Western country, no airline will ever ticket you if you tell them "I don't have a visa, but I am seeking asylum in this country as their laws allow.")

Boat people don't have job offers because they aren't allowed to look for work; upon being rescued, they're often immediately detained and/or deported. In many countries like the UK, even asylum seekers who have been allowed in are banned from working. Boat people also don't have anywhere to stay because governments have banned them from finding a place to stay. It takes a lot of money to save up for illegal passage -- the price of which is inflated because of the illegal nature of the crossing. These savings would be better spent by migrants on finding a place to settle, but instead they get extracted by smugglers, since there is no legal alternative.

Irregular immigrants in Europe who make it past the dragnets and walls and gunboats don't seem to have any problems finding a place to stay or work to do. Yes, there are a few criminals among them -- I've certainly encountered my share of harassment from Roma or African immigrants when travelling in Europe. If the authorities should be focusing their resources on anyone, it should be those immigrants who actually commit crimes and harass other people.

I absolutely don't think all children should have equal opportunity, and that sounds mean at first, but if you think it through, it's quite logical.
I'm skeptical of the idea that equal opportunity is an unabashed good worth any price, no matter how high. But I'm also skeptical of the idea that governments should use violent force to create and reinforce inequality of opportunity.
It's often a mutually unspoken agreement that white people stay out of certain black neighborhoods in Detroit, Newark, Philadelphia, and Florida. That hasn't destroyed civilization yet, but it's clearly a negative for whites and they should be concerned about it.
This sort of segregation was created by the US government's housing policies and local governments' zoning laws. These are internal border controls that, in many cases, should also be torn down. It is not an accident of history that many cities in the US are racially segregated. If you look at the history of "redlining," the US government intentionally pursued housing policies that promoted and subsidised housing segregation along racial lines.

Again, to the extent that government policy intentionally creates and reinforces such inequalities, it needs to be stopped. It is one thing for people to voluntarily choose their circle of friends and community. It is a completely different thing for governments to violently enforce some people's preferences as the law.

Milo Minderbinder writes:

She's a refugee from Myanmar. Refugees are subject to different rules for federal benefits than regular immigrants. It's nothing to do with the political process or appetite for giving benefits to immigrants -- it's everything to do with the politics of handling refugees.

I don't believe that is the case. My understanding is that if you are lawfully present in the US, you qualify for ACA subsidies.

http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/green-card-holders-qualify-obamacare-medicare-article-1.1728340


For the most expensive benefits (Social Security and Medicare), they need to work at least 10 years to be eligible.

I also think this isn't the case. According to the AARP, you can "buy" your way into MediCare (at what appears to be a subsidized rate) if you don't qualify.

http://www.aarp.org/health/medicare-insurance/info-04-2011/medicare-eligibility.html

You also ignored the cost of educating her two (so far) children.

And there are plenty of other programs and spending that never seem to get mentioned.

http://www.newsworks.org/index.php/local/politics/66978-asian-american-voters-not-getting-language-help-at-philly-polls-complaint-says

Here's a woman who has been in the country at least 7 years. She's also a citizen despite the fact she can't speak English. So rather then spend money on transit, or school, or police, mental health, or returning it in the form of tax cuts, we have to print up ballots in her language and hire a bunch of monitor/translators to man the polls.

johnleemk writes:
I don't believe that is the case. My understanding is that if you are lawfully present in the US, you qualify for ACA subsidies.
The ACA is the only major federal exception to the general rule that foreigners legally present in the US (unless they have resided on a green card for >5 years) cannot obtain most federal benefits. And unlike the rest of the US federal benefits system, the ACA is far from fully settled law or policy.
According to the AARP, you can "buy" your way into MediCare (at what appears to be a subsidized rate) if you don't qualify.
You need to be legally present on a green card for five years to even be eligible to "buy" Medicare coverage. It says so right on the webpage.
You also ignored the cost of educating her two (so far) children.
Because to adequately do that cost-benefit analysis, you also have to account for the *benefit* of providing education for these future Americans. Until someone presents compelling evidence otherwise, I consider it safe to treat the costs and benefits of public education roughly equivalent, and thus public education as cost-neutral.
Here's a woman who has been in the country at least 7 years. She's also a citizen despite the fact she can't speak English. So rather then spend money on transit, or school, or police, mental health, or returning it in the form of tax cuts, we have to print up ballots in her language and hire a bunch of monitor/translators to man the polls.
The US has a long and proud history of non-English-speaking citizens. Before the US was even founded, Ben Franklin was running around worrying about German immigrants not learning English. Right until WWI, you could find many German communities all over the US where hardly any English was spoken. Also note that until the mid-19th century, many US states allowed non-citizens to vote with little qualification. Until the closing of the borders in the early 20th century, many US states allowed non-citizens to vote provided they met certain residency requirements and declared their intention to naturalise.

In short, I am unpersuaded that providing some translation services for legally-naturalised US citizens to exercise their constitutional right to vote represents a major, dangerous cost to US society. The US had open borders for a long time, and allowed immigrants to vote for most of that period. Many developed/Western countries today allow immigrants to vote even if they have not naturalised. I don't advocate migrant suffrage, but I think the suggestion that allowing some of them to vote -- let alone merely providing translation services for citizens who want to vote -- constitutes a major problem doesn't have any empirical backing.

If you want to find something in the budget to cut, I'd start with the billions spent on blanket, untargeted enforcement of border laws against immigrants. A small fraction of the people jailed and eventually deported from the US today have actually committed any crime worse than being an illegal immigrant or getting a speeding ticket. It costs on the order of a hundred bucks per day to detain an immigrant. Stop locking up immigrants and deporting them unless they've committed serious crimes. If you're still looking for money then, then we can talk about things such as translation services for US citizens.

LD Bottorff writes:

Milo and BJ both make good points; there is considerable skepticism on the part of some people that reasonable arrangements (no benefits, no voting) won't be enforced. This is part of the political problem that we face, especially when political leaders so easily lie about what new laws really mean.
However, there is plenty of dishonesty on both sides. Despite the fact that the 2006 immigration reform did not include amnesty, many of the reform opponents still call it amnesty.
I applaud Professor Caplan's continued efforts on this issue. If we can just get enough people to see the injustice of locking people out, eventually we can solve the political issues.

Massimo writes:
Regarding boat people, they wouldn't require rescue from unsafe boats if governments would allow them to purchase passage on safe boats or planes.
Boat people don't have job offers because they aren't allowed to look for work;

These points are completely true. I give you credit for responding to counter points.

If foreigners did have full rights to purchase passage, rent housing, and accept employment, what happens when that doesn't work out well, and the foreigners don't have a place to sleep or food to eat. Rather than quietly purchase passage to their origin, there is an expectation of aid, there is tension of inequality, the immigrants harass the locals because they don't have food to eat, or illegally squat on other's property because they have no where else to sleep? Basic law enforcement would be ugly and wildly unpopular and unsustainable. Currently, host countries provide large amounts of charitable aid to avoid those exact scenarios. You are saying that they have no obligation to do that or that mass law enforcement targeting poor immigrants who fell into a predictable situation should be accepted?

In Obama's autobiography based on his experience in championing poor black American interests in the Chicago area, he wrote:

"wherever black and white met, the result was sure to be anger and grief."

It is silly to sweep all of this under the rug of people merely engaging in free market property rental and employment arrangements. Clearly, many of the upper class felt obligated to provide charity, the government adopted new charity programs explicitly to help and socially engineer the lower class to work their way up the social and financial ladder, law enforcement was modified to accommodate the lower class, racial preference under the name of affirmative action became predominant, local governments voted for overtly and publically racist leaders like Coleman Young, and large swaths of the productive middle class were ultimately forced to migrate away. This boils down to a giant one way transfer of money, power, and freedom from one demographic to another, that was mostly involuntary on the losers part.

"This sort of segregation was created by the US government's housing policies and local governments' zoning laws. These are internal border controls that, in many cases, should also be torn down. It is not an accident of history that many cities in the US are racially segregated."

But there has been much recent, resegregation. I don't see how you can fault that on past policy.

Massimo writes:
I think the best move would be for a coalition of Western nations to sponsor a particular Western nation to adopt a radical open borders effort and see what the outcome is (there has to be SOME nation that would do it for some level of payment and/or treaty concessions, and given the enormous upside the value of such information is high).

South Africa is basically exactly that: a successful westernized nation that suddenly opened it's borders to a poor foreign majority.

Magus Janus writes:

we have plenty of evidence in the US already of the potential issues of migration, it's just legal internal migration. It can be good when the population is reasonably homogenous and shares cultural mores, but it can be very very bad indeed at times, particularly when the migrants are viewed as belonging to an "other" group.

Example: Detroit. Detroit would be far better off had it been able to restrict entry from the late 50s onwards. And that's with immigrants who spoke the same language.

Anyone defending the mass migration of lower income people from a different culture and often different language into the US should probably explain how we will avoid a nation-wide Detroit situation. And particularly why those already here should somehow acquiesce in this.

j writes:

Magus Janus,
I think unrestricted immigration would make cities look a lot more like Los Angeles and Miami than Detroit.

Gabe writes:

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Thomas writes:

The problem I see is that immigration restrictions work very effectively to stop productive, educated people from moving here. They have better opportunities elsewhere, than living in the shadows here.

On the other hand, they are ineffective against people who have nothing to lose, for whom living in the shadows here is the best option they have.

Voters then see "immigrants" and think of the latter group, not the former.

I know some people who speak English, are highly educated, and are libertarian, who would be stellar additions to our country. But they're not going to come here as illegals: we'd have to invite them properly.

And that's not going to happen.

I have facebook friends responding to a post of mine linking to your column above who assert that in your column you "said you needed to prove you had a job and could afford housing" before you could enter the country. Did you mean to imply that? Do you believe it?

Bryan Caplan writes:

@Daniel - No, I never endorsed either requirement, and do not favor them. In practice, however, admitting anyone who passed the job and housing requirements would move us 90% of the way to open borders, so I would strongly prefer it to the stats quo.

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