Bryan Caplan  

The Specter of Open Borders

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Great short old piece by Matt Yglesias:
[T]he specter of truly open borders is such an obvious specter for nativists to raise that proponents of more liberal immigration laws had better have something sensible to say about it.
Indeed, the nativists I've privately and publicly encountered routinely claim we're already in a world of open borders, and insist I'm just a more honest version of Obama or Merkel.  As I explained after arguing with Mark Krikorian, head of the Center for Immigration Studies:
Mark paid me a nice compliment, calling me an "honest man" willing to unreservedly defend mass immigration.  But he paired this compliment with harsh words for mainstream pro-immigration thinkers.  Mark seems to think that they secretly agree with me, but aren't honest enough to admit it.

What evidence does Mark have for his conspiratorial view of his mainstream opponents?  None that I've seen.  He's just imputing fanciful hidden motives to people he barely knows.  Why fanciful?  Well, I've talked with plenty of mainstream pro-immigration thinkers.  If anything, my presence inclines them to exaggerate their support for immigration.  Still, they're sadly unfamiliar with the case for open borders, and almost as quick to reject the idea as Mark.
The sad reality is that mainstream pro-immigration thinkers favor moving from our current world of 98% closed borders to maybe 97% closed borders.  But xenophobia is so rampant that even these tepid reforms sound like the end of the world to at least a quarter of American natives. 

COMMENTS (5 to date)
Kurt Schuler writes:

Claiming that people who disagree with you have a "phobia" stinks. There are quite justifiable reasons for an existing group to be apprehensive when outsiders arrive in large numbers. Think about Robert Putnam's finding that greater ethnic and racial diversity generally leads to less civic engagement. Think about how the influx of Syrian refugees is affecting the fragile political balance in Lebanon or how it is roiling Europe. If you know any European Jews, ask them what effect immigration has had on their safety. Think about how ethnic tensions persist in Malaysia even though most of the Chinese and Indians in the country have been there for generations. As an extreme case, think about the Hutus and the Tutsis.

The thumping you received in the 2013 Intelligence Squared debate, where you failed to make the sale to a highly sympathetic audience, should have taught you something. Despite it, you still don't seem to think there's much difference between importing 20 million barrels of oil from Russia or Yemen or Nigeria and importing 20 million Russians or Yemenis or Nigerians. People who don't live in a bubble know better.

John Miller writes:

The only problem with your idea of open borders (leaving aside issues of religion and xenophobia) is that a huge majority of these people who would flow into the country are those who would vote for big government and socialist policies - which are almost totally against Libertarian philosophy.

Brad Sallows writes:

Instinctively I'd prefer to be "for" more open borders. But I notice that most of the advocates of more open borders just happen to be people whose livelihoods are not easily (and not often) dislocated by immigrants and almost impossible to send offshore; furthermore, they tend to be people fortunate enough to be born with aptitudes to succeed at many things and adapt to dislocation.

If the net migration amounted to a broad, proportionate cross section of people it might be tolerable on both sides. A brain drain for the "losing" country is not; an influx of dependents into a "gaining" country with a large social welfare commitment is not.

Shane L writes:

If borders are currently "98% closed" yet we already see signs of demographic transitions, then open borders must mean the out-numbering of native people by outsiders within a few years. The fastest-growing populations are largely in socially conservative countries in Africa and the Middle East that are also poor and therefore most likely to provide participants to migration. (World Bank lists Oman, Kuwait, Niger, South Sudan, Qatar, Chad, Burundi, Angola, Uganda and The Gambia as the top 10 fastest-growing countries in 2014.)

This Pew survey from 2014 found that 87% of respondents in Africa and 92% in the Middle East (compared with 16% in Europe and 37% in USA) thought homosexuality was "morally unacceptable".

Is it really so strange that people are alarmed about the prospect of being minorities in a land where most people think homosexuality is unacceptable?

Floccina writes:

@Brad Sallows, I was with a low income construction laborer friend driving into the trailer park where he lives, it is some of worst housing in the city, and I realized that there is an upside to low income US natives from immigration. He often tells me about the bad habits of his neighbours but as we drove in he pointed to a group of Mexicans and he said those guys are all right. It seems that immigrants though poor on average have fewer problems than native born domestic poor and so have a positive effect on the low rent areas that they live in.

Hispanic though being generally poor have the same rate of crime as white native US citizens (see here: and Chinese and Vietnamese immigrants lower.

So lower income folks like him might welcome more immigration.

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