Bryan Caplan  

The Costs of Diversity: What Will I Learn?

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As you may have heard, I'm collaborating with SMBC's Zach Weinersmith on a non-fiction graphic novel on the philosophy and social science of immigration.  Working title: All Roads Lead to Open Borders.  I'm now writing chapter 4, "Crimes Against Culture," examining the main cultural arguments against immigration. 

Since I take graphic novels very seriously, I'm sticking to my standard methods of quality control.  First and foremost: Read very widely and deeply on each topic immediately before writing.  Sometimes that means a lot of review; other times, I get lost in a completely new literature.  In coming weeks, I'll be carefully exploring a literature I mostly know second-hand: social science on the costs of diversity, especially ethno-linguistic fractionalization.

Since making clear predictions is a good way to mitigate hindsight bias, I want to publicly make a conjecture about what I'll learn.  And here it is: Almost all of the alleged "costs of diversity" can just as easily be interpreted as "costs of intolerance" or "costs of identity politics."

You'll know more when I know more.

COMMENTS (17 to date)
Devin writes:
And here it is: Almost all of the alleged "costs of diversity" can just as easily be interpreted as "costs of intolerance" or "costs of identity politics."

What if this is true, but it is the incoming immigrant group that is "intolerant" and practices identity politics? If you have "open borders", how do you screen immigrants to prevent intolerant immigrant? What screen should be used? How do you keep the numbers low enough so that the immigrants can assimilate, rather than identifying first with their co-ethnics?

And its especially difficult because intolerance often doesn't show up until the second generation. The first generation might feel happy just to have the opportunity of living in America. The second generation takes that for granted and might feel bitter because they have not advanced as far as they expected. (And this is not just theoretical, I believe I have seen statistics showing that problems of crime are more prevalent among the second generation of hispanic immigrants.)

Phil writes:

"Almost all of the alleged "costs of diversity" can just as easily be interpreted as "costs of intolerance" or "costs of identity politics.""

who cares how you want to interpret them, the better question is why do you want to pay thos costs?

Bill Friedman writes:

Although you may well have seen it, Scott Alexander linked an interesting article about Muslim immigration to Europe in a recent links post, which provides some of the strongest evidence I've seen against total open borders and hence might be worth considering as part of your research.


BH writes:

Diversity is identity politics.

phil writes:

fwiw, if you want to make your graphic novel persuasive to people who aren't already true believers, you should engage with the arguments here in a meaningful way:

I'll c+p Scott Alexander's introduction from his blog:

"M.G. Miles makes the case for banning Muslim immigration. Maybe the first person I have seen make this case in a principled way; everyone else just seems to be screaming about stuff and demanding their readers reinterpret it into argument form. Also, he uses the word “terrorism” zero times, which seems like the correct number of times for a case of this sort. This is what people should be debating and responding to. Rebuttals by Americans would probably want to start with the differences between Muslim immigrants to Europe and Muslim immigrants to the US – Miles discusses the European case, but by my understanding these are very different populations with very different outcomes)."

Colin French writes:

Having worked in a multicultural boarding school for a few years, one of the things worth considering is that the cost of education often rises when you have to

A) Support massive ESL departments
B) Often teach regular classes in alternative languages which in many cases
C) Leads to the increased ethnic segregation that already exists.

I'm an open borders guy too, but it does have some additional educational costs.

KevinDC writes:

Phil asks why would Caplan (or anyone else, I gather) want to pay the costs. Not wanting to seem cheeky, but I suppose the obvious answer is that Caplan believes the benefits outweigh the costs.

The reframing of costs also bring focus on where we ought to ameliorate the costs of immigration. If the "costs of diversity" can be equally considered as "costs of identity politics" then we have two ways to try to minimize those costs. We can either crack down on immigration or otherwise take steps to make society more homogeneous and less diverse - or we can do away with identity politics. The second option seems more sensible and more humane, given that it doesn't mean trapping lots of desperately poor people to perpetual poverty.

honeyoak writes:

Sammy Smooha (see here has written a lot about this from a sociological perspective. Below is a lecture that he had at LSE that was very informative:

Steve Z writes:

Prof. Caplan -

It seems rather cheeky to 'predict' that, after much research, you will reach a predetermined conclusion that is consistent with your stated beliefs, and then announce that this is a way of mitigating "hindsight bias." You might as well be a bishop confidently 'predicting' that a study of the new atheists will only confirm his view that God is great. Stating the conclusion you think you'll reach from research is a way of fixing your biases, not dispelling them.

Wouldn't it be better to specify your prior beliefs, and their constituents, with a degree of certainty, at the beginning of your search, and also specify the type or kinds of evidence that would shift your priors?

Also, will you (can you) address alternate value systems? You have a certain moral framework that informs your thinking; the vast majority of people appear to disagree with this framework. Will you offer arguments for immigration from within, say, the framework that views a nation and its people as having inherent dignity; or pitched to self-interested current residents of a country who may lose their jobs, or be offended by immigrants because immigrants are different?

And, if the goal is to change matters, will you make the case for benevolent dictatorship {enforced by the force} by libertarian philosopher kings? To the extent you identify moral dilemmas and public problems, they are surely proximately caused by preference aggregation systems, like democracy, that reward rational ignorance. Hence one might think your real problem lay in democracy, not any particular policy emanation - if your suggestions were really value-enhancing, then you should focus on putting in place a power-structure that reliably makes value-enhancing moves.

Phil writes:


"the obvious answer is that Caplan believes the benefits outweigh the costs"

that's fine so long as he's not hand waving the costs away

"The reframing of costs also bring focus on where we ought to ameliorate the costs of immigration."

that's the problem, that particular reframing suggest a value statement that looks like the beginning of an attempt to hand wave the costs away

"or we can do away with identity politics"

that would be great, but its not obvious that that's something we'd be able to accomplish after the fact

if its not something we're able to accomplish, "crack down on immigration" is probably significantly less scary than "otherwise take steps to make society more homogeneous and less diverse"

Thaomas writes:

I think one issue will be that much (all?) the evidence will involve stocks or marginal flows whereas the contentions will be about non-marginal flows.

Thaomas writes:

One more thing to think about is if the alternative to "Open Borders" is the status quo or some more open intermediate policy?

Matthew Moore writes:

1) democracy and civil society requires a degree of fellow-feeling most common in groups with a shared set of cultural touchstones.

2) assimilation is the key mitigating variable

3) the EU has open internal borders to all intents and purposes. This is the internal migration of majority white, Christian heritage peoples. It has caused massive resentment and no longer has popular support in many areas.

4) costs and benefits are very unequally distributed, so net costs are only part of the story.

5i) the effects of large scale migration on local culture are highly uncertain

5ii) the historic occurances of freer societies are rare and are not always long lived (WWII and Cold war conclusions in Europe could also easily have been different)

5iii) it is very important to maintain examples of liberal cultures in the world

I support open borders.

Matthew Moore writes:

PS 'Almost all of the alleged "costs of diversity" can just as easily be interpreted as "costs of intolerance" or "costs of identity politics."'

I strongly disagree, this is a straw man. The major cost is the *risk* of a gradual or catastrophic failure of the original liberal host culture, either due to lack of integration or due to backlash.

Anon39 writes:

Dr. Caplan,

Thank you for your incredible efforts in pushing for open borders. It is the greatest obstacle to utility optimization currently and all it would take is a stroke of a pen to eliminate it! Every other human tragedy is intractable and has real costs and few easy solutions: war, disease, poverty, mental illness, lack of social status (in lieu of the bs income inequality debates). Open borders is costless and a trillion dollar bill on the sidewalk.

That being said, professor, I urge you to use your powers of education and persuasion to help calm the fear over Muslim immigration / islamophobia. Racism and resistance to cultural change drive most of these problems with Trump, Nazis, etc. following your pro natal stance I submit to you that cultures can only be evaluated based on their TFR. Revealed preference and all. If Muslims believe in their culture more than white racist Europeans then it is their duty to utility maximize and populate the earth with their culture. Open borders will facilitate this process and maximize utility among the pro natal world population.

Joshua Wexler writes:

You may be mitigating against hindsight bias with the public prediction, but you surely are also exposing yourself to confirmation bias with it.

Fred_PA_2000 writes:

Aren't you saying that culture doesn't matter? That writers like Weber (old) and McCloskey (new) were in profound error? (But in which case, why bother to raise your children to your own values? Arguably the British upper classes didn't, farming them out instead to boarding schools. For that matter, why write blogs such as this or compose graphic novels if values -- mostly or entirely enculturated -- don't really matter?)
Or are you saying that enculturated values (all values?) are actually quite shallow and easily changed -- rather like a shirt. (But then failures to assimilate would seem to be a mystery.)
Or are you saying that your own cultural values are so obviously superior that new acquaintances will quickly deduce that and make the effort to adopt them. (But then why didn't such adoption occur millennia ago such that we would now have a single world culture?)
Given the historical tendency of clashing cultures to fall into warfare & slaughter, what benefits do you see that could outweigh this?

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