Bryan Caplan  

Open Borders Meetup: The Speech

Word games: Krugman's odd defi... Garett Jones and Charles Tiebo...
The 2015 Open Borders Meetup went splendidly.  Seventy people attended, including Open Borders bloggers Nathan Smith, John Lee, and David Bennion.  My one regret: I had a prime opportunity to deliver a galvanizing speech, but failed to do so.  Here's the speech I wish I'd given:

I've always wanted to give a revolutionary speech from this balcony, and finally I have my chance.  I'm Bryan Caplan, your host.  Welcome to the 2015 Open Borders Meetup.  I'm pleased to report that we hail from every inhabited continent.  Some of us are American citizens.  Some are not citizens, but have legal permission to live and work here.  And, at risk of tarnishing a happy day, some of us here lack these basic human rights.  All I can say is: the American government does not speak for me.  Whatever the law says, you're welcome in my home.  It's my honor to host you all. 

I'm particular grateful, though, to the Open Borders bloggers who traveled long distances to be here.  All hail Nathan Smith, John Lee, and David Bennion.  And though he's not here, let's all give special thanks to the great intellectual entrepreneur Vipul Naik, founder of the Open Borders website.  I may have intellectually inspired him, but he's my hero.

We're gathered here today to advance a great, neglected idea: That all human beings, not just people born on the right side of national borders, should be free to live and work where they please.  If a landlord wants to rent to you, an employer wants to hire you, it is none of the government's business. 

While every existing government mandates discrimination against foreigners, they're wrong to do so.  Mandatory discrimination against foreigners is morally no better than mandatory discrimination against blacks, women, Jews, or gays.  And economically, it's folly.  Mass production is the secret to mass consumption.  Trapping most of the world's talent in less-productive regions of the world impoverishes us all.  Immigration restrictions are a grave injustice that does great harm, holding much of the world in poverty while keeping the full fruits of human talent off the world market.

Isn't it more complicated than that?  Yes and no.  There are a vast range of economic, political, and cultural objections to open borders.  Vipul Naik has patiently cataloged them on the Open Borders website, presenting them more carefully than any of their actual proponents.  In the end, though, the case for this radical reform comes shining through.  Almost-open borders built the United States - and open borders is ready to bring the blessings of freedom and prosperity to the globe if the world's governments will only let it.

The rub, sadly, is that the world's governments are hardly flouting the will of their people.  Contrary to restrictionist rhetoric, we're light-years from "open borders."  You need only look at the prices human smugglers charge to see this truth.  Yet most governments are already pushing the limits of the public's tolerance for immigration.  For open borders to move forward, we have to change a lot of minds.  It's not going to be easy, but this is our task.

Still, there's no reason to make the task any harder than it has to be by needlessly alienating anyone.  I don't hide my radicalism, but I strive to be a friendly radical.  I know quite a few of you in attendance aren't quite ready to push the open borders button.  I won't deny I'm dying to convert you, but fellow travelers are always welcome - the more the merrier. 

The same goes, of course, for everyone who defends free migration with non-libertarian arguments and rhetoric. While libertarians like myself are greatly over-represented in the ranks of open borders advocates, this is an historical accident.  Every libertarian should favor open borders - but so should every thoughtful liberal and every thoughtful conservative.  As I said in my closing statement for Intelligence Squared:

Liberals should oppose immigration restrictions in the name of equality, reducing poverty, equal opportunity, non-discrimination, social justice, and the global 99%. 

Conservatives should oppose immigration restrictions in the name of freedom, free markets, small government, the work ethic, meritocracy, and Horatio Alger himself. 

How exactly do I propose converting mankind to deeply unpopular open borders policies?  Crowdsourcing, of course.  We all have our own styles and audiences, and we should all do our part.  That said, I believe our best general approach is to focus on young elites. 

Why the young?  They've always been easier to reach than the old, and they're definitely the future. 

Why the elite?  First, they're already relatively sympathetic to philosophy, economics, and cosmopolitanism, so persuading them is in the realm of possibility.  Second, even democracies seem to put extra weight on elite opinion.  And third, elite opinion tends to slowly trickle down to the rest of society.  Converting the elite may not be enough.  But then again, it may.

Won't this be an endlessly frustrating task?  That's up to us.  I don't expect to win anytime soon, but I'm delighted to be part of our vibrant and cheerful intellectual community.  Not all of us here were lucky enough to be born in the First World.  But we're all lucky to be part of this movement and circle of friends.  And with your effort and can-do attitude, our movement and circle of friends will keep growing until the ideal of free migration for all human beings is a reality.

COMMENTS (7 to date)
Tom DeMeo writes:

I was curious when I saw Vipul Naik had catalogued economic, political, and cultural objections to open borders, so I went to the link provided

I had always thought these discussions failed to address legitimate swamping scenarios, and lo and behold, the link brought me directly to his analysis "Swamping by Immigrants is Hardly Possible"

For reasons I do not understand, he gave no consideration whatsoever to war or major natural disasters. Hello? Is anyone home? Because of this, I determined that his analysis was not serious.

RPLong writes:

@ Tom DeMeo -

Based on your comment, I pulled up the page and searched for "natural disaster." Within seconds I had located this page, entitled "Emigration as disaster relief" (with links to others). A search for "war refugees" produces 17 pages of articles and blog posts.

Might some of these search results have addressed your concerns with sufficient seriousness?

Tom DeMeo writes:


I will admit to only reviewing the article I cited, which was accessed directly using the link provided in this post. I thought it was on point, and as I said, it did not address war or natural disasters.

I don't know if you looked at "Emigration as disaster relief", but if you do, I think you'll agree that it contains nothing that adds to this discussion at all.

I also paged through about half of the search results for "war refugees". I looked over the synopses of the results and did not see an article that appeared to address concerns of "swamping" or sudden, destabilizing major shifts in population due to war.

If you can find an article that addresses this particular issue, I'd be happy to look it over.

RPLong writes:

"Emigration as disaster relief" is a summary page that serves as a launching point to more in-depth discussions.

Many people complain that open borders advocates do not answer specific arguments in great enough depth. That may seem true if all one does is skim summaries and wait for passing blog commentators to hunt down additional information.

Still, it seems an odd criticism to make if one isn't willing to do one's own deep dive into the available information. You may find that, ultimately, none of the information is persuasive enough to you, personally, but suggesting that open borders advocates aren't making serious arguments after merely skimming those arguments strikes me as being an unfair criticism.

Tom DeMeo writes:


I was only responding to your specific citations. And after spending more time looking at them, I am only more convinced there is nothing persuasive there.

I didn't say I hadn't read anything else.

An Anonymous Farmer writes:

Reviewed and found the page confusing - for example, it lays out a counterargument to open borders but then doesn't actually counter that argument (for example, see the "Expansion of welfare state" page).

So this may not be the best place to ask: But a common counter-argument these days (e.g. Molyneux) is: Immigrants will vote for more welfare - any thoughts?

Chuck McGlawn writes:

In ratifying the Constitution the Delegates from the thirteen States did not relinquish to the national Government any power over Immigration

It took that National Government 93 years to usurp the power necessary to pass the first National anti-immigration law. It was The Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

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