Bryan Caplan  

Students for Liberty Open Borders Debate: My Opening Statement

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Saturday I once again debated the Center for Immigration Studies' Mark Krikorian on open borders, this time for the Students for Liberty regional conference at the University of Maryland.  Here's my opening statement.


RESOLVED: The United States should Pursue a Policy of Open Borders.

1. Under open borders, all human beings, regardless of citizenship, are free to work for willing employers, rent from willing landlords, and buy from willing vendors.  It's a simple deduction from the basic libertarian principle that government should not interfere with capitalist acts between consenting adults.

2. The only principled libertarian objection to this is that the citizens of each country are its rightful owners, so they're entitled to regulate migration as they see fit.  

3. But if you believe this, there is no principled libertarian objection to any act of government: You can't move into my house without my consent, but you also can't open a store in my house without my consent, practice your religion in my house without my consent, preach libertarianism in my house without my consent, or live in my house without paying me all the rent I demand.  If citizens are the rightful owners of the country, they have every right to regulate and tax any aspect of life they like. 

4. Fortunately, the belief that citizens are countries' rightful owners is crazy.  The social contract is an utter myth.  Contracts require unanimous consent, and no country has ever had unanimous consent. 

5. Of course, most libertarians - including me - grant that if the consequences of specific libertarian policies are terrible, we should make an exception.  It's a big tent; you don't have to be a strict libertarian on everything to qualify as a libertarian.  But open borders is not a case where an exception is justified. 

6. Why not?  For starters, we should remember that preventing someone from moving to his preferred country is not a minor inconvenience like a parking ticket.  It's a severe act of government coercion.  Imagine you could either be stuck in Haiti for the rest of your life, or be literally enslaved with probability x.  What value of x makes you indifferent?  10%?  20%?  30%?  I'm not saying immigration restrictions are as bad as slavery; but if for the billions born in places like Haiti, our restrictions are at least 10% as bad as slavery.

7. What about the broader effects of immigration?  Standard economic estimates say that open borders would have massive economic benefits - roughly DOUBLING global production.  How?  By moving billions of workers from countries where their labor produces little to countries where their labor produces a lot.  Just look at how much a Haitian's wages rise the day he arrives in Miami.
 

8. What about fiscal effects?  Milton Friedman famously warned that "You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare state."  But I've looked closely at the numbers, and Friedman  was just wrong.  If you're curious, check out the latest National Academy of Science estimates. 

9. What if immigrants come and vote for statist policies?  I've looked at the numbers.  Immigrants are more economically liberal and socially conservative than natives, but the differences are modest, and immigrants don't vote much anyway.  And immigrants are much more libertarian than natives on one important dimension: support for free immigration.  Today's immigrants are much more Democratic than natives, but if you ever thought that Democrats were dramatically worse for freedom than Republicans, I hope the last year has changed your mind.

10. I generally avoid poetry, but today I'll make an exception.  The government decrees that fellow human beings can't live or work here without proper papers - papers that are almost impossible for most people on Earth to ever obtain.  It treats them as criminals for terrible offenses like shining shoes on the streets of Miami or picking fruit in the fields of California.  If libertarians won't stand up for the rights of these literally oppressed people, we stand for nothing and we are nothing.





COMMENTS (54 to date)
Andy Hallman writes:

Well done, Bryan!

How was your message received? Did Mark say anything you hadn't heard in your earlier debates with him?

Ben Kennedy writes:
For starters, we should remember that preventing someone from moving to his preferred country is not a minor inconvenience like a parking ticket. It's a severe act of government coercion.

Don't call it coercion... this is way outside the normal usage of the word. If a thief's preferred location is inside my living room, am I "coercing" him by locking my door? Using that word in an extremely atypical manner clouds the argument, especially toward Libertarians who have a very specific idea as to what "coercion" is

Henry writes:

I think this is a good argument for increasing immigration on the margin. I'm much less convinced about totally open borders (though still open to the idea).

In particular, maybe immigrants voting for the 2017 Democratic Party is relatively benign. But if what if immigrants were so numerous they could push the Democratic Party in the direction of say, the Venezuelan Socialists?

Maurizio writes:

Islam. There must something wrong in your post, because I don't read that word.

Ben A writes:

4. Fortunately, the belief that citizens are countries' rightful owners is crazy. The social contract is an utter myth. Contracts require unanimous consent, and no country has ever had unanimous consent.

This principle proves too much. If unanimous consent is required for legal authority, this constitutes an argument against *any laws* that restrict freedom. Bryan sets the bar for justification so high it can never be reached.

Here's the question I think Bryan needs to answer:

1. Can a principled libertarianism maintain that citizens of a nation have obligations to each other they do not have towards non-citizens?

I believe Bryan would answer this in the negative. But I am honestly unsure.

john hare writes:

I am against open borders as I understand Bryans' interpretation. His posts seem to push me away from it. I could support a much better guest worker program with a lot less desperation involved. Totally open though, no.

Mark writes:

It'd be nice if you could include a link to the PNAS study, or which issue it's in, so we don't have go trudging though months (years?) of PNAS articles to find it.

And I don't see how you can say flat out that Friedman is wrong: obviously, if the state redistributes generously enough, and immigrants mainly come from a low enough income group, then the average immigrant will incur greater loss to society as an entitlement recipient than the value of what he will produce.

Is your argument that at this moment, the welfare state isn't generous enough to make this so? Or that immigrants take advantage of entitlements enough for this to be the case?

Ilya writes:

Let's say I rob Bryan blind. So the government arrests me and throws me into prison. Is this not a severe act of coercion by the government? If so, then why is this ok but not to keep immigrants out?

Weir writes:

One Haitian's wages rise the day he arrives in Miami. But four billion Haitians? Under a Star Trek scenario where four billion Haitians beam into Miami on a Tuesday morning, the argument doesn't scale, does it? What you're making, unintentionally, is a really strong argument for the status quo. Because what people hear is a really persuasive case for allowing hundreds of thousands or millions of people to get around existing restrictions. Just not open borders.

Because the concept of Miami wages is no longer operative under a policy of open borders. Under a ridiculously extreme scenario, the four billion Haitians can't actually earn Miami wages anymore. Miami wages aren't a constant. Four billion Chinese factory workers could walk out of the Foxconn facility and beam into a brand new Miami factory on a Tuesday, and their productivity wouldn't actually leap forward so astoundingly that Tim Cook and all of Apple's shareholders say, "Yes. We should have been employing these guys here in America the whole time. They're so much more productive here."

What else doesn't stay constant? The existing restrictions on land use, which would become even more restrictive. The minimum wage would be made even more destructive, wouldn't it? Politicians would think up keyhole problems. Ideally, politicians would come up with keyhole solutions. But actually they'd continue thinking up new keyhole problems, the kind of ridiculous keyhole obstructions that would make existing occupational licensing laws look sane and wise. They'd keep doing, in other words, what they've always done before. That's what they're good at. And voters would keep voting for more restrictions and obstructions, the same as before. Honestly, Bryan, how do you expect voters to react?

Four billion illiterate peasants could beam into Miami and buy lots and lots of stuff, but even then, the wages they were hoping to earn wouldn't suddenly rise in lockstep with all that shopping. That's not what's been happening for the last forty years. Prime-age males born outside the American border might even end up agreeing with an increasing number of prime-age males born inside the American border that video games and Fentanyl aren't all that undignified. Maybe there's nothing magic about being born outside the American border that would prevent foreigners like me from becoming exactly as deplorable as any Appalachian meth addict.

Racist, sexist homophobes would become a lot less deplorable when they're voting for president Chelsea Clinton, wouldn't they? Even the most misogynistic of male chauvinists would be welcome into the Democrat party, sexist, anti-Semitic Muslims and entirely unprogressive pentecostal Christians from Nigeria. You've already acknowledged what happened to the GOP in 2016. But, Bryan, what would become of the Democrats?

What people hear is a really persuasive argument against open borders. What people hear is an unreasonable argument about an unimaginable number of genuinely poor people. You're talking about an even more terrifying spectre than the kind of poor people that haunt the dreams of wealthy progressive parents in sanctuary cities today, parents who are terrified already about their kids ever coming into contact with sort-of poor kids, the kind of poor kids that Betsy DeVos is trying to help with the vouchers that impeccably progressive parents loathe and fear.

There are people open to discussing numbers and timing and skill levels and literacy and culture and all those fine points of nuance, and I think those people are intentionally persuasive. I think their arguments are productive. But I think the argument for open borders is counterproductive, and destructive, and a massive own goal. So Mark Kikorian must love to hear you speak, because you're really helping him.

Bedarz Iliachi writes:

The only principled libertarian objection to this is that the citizens of each country are its rightful owners

But why a non-libertarian obliged to limit his objections to libertarian objections?

Bryan fails the ideological Turing test. He needs to articulate principled non-libertarian arguments too. A sketch of such an argument might be:

People of a country aren't owners of the territory possessed by the said country. Ownership itself presumes a nexus of laws, customs, expectations etc that are built in in a particular country and define the very country.

The basic concept of ownership itself implies people living politically. For the libertarian theory says an unowned thing can be owned by a person if that person mixes his labor with that thing. But the theory can not say how much labor is needed to be mixed with a particular thing. That requires particular laws of particular people. So ownership makes sense in particular sets of laws. These laws are set up in particular countries.

All this is ignored by libertarians. These nexus of laws, customs etc separate people into neighbors (those that share in the laws and customs) and strangers (those that do not share in). But libertarians lack language to describe such basic human institutions and intuitions,

Gian writes:
government should not interfere with capitalist acts between consenting adults.

Surely government or at least society is needed to define who is adult, what is consent precisely and what comes under capitalist acts.

Thaomas writes:

The whole argument for open borders as opposed to more immigration or even just non-enforcement of deportation against non-criminal immigrants seems like a way for Libertarians to dodge the real issue of the day.

Thomas B writes:

"The only principled libertarian objection to this is that the citizens of each country are its rightful owners"


I don't know if the citizens of a country are its "rightful" owners, but it's pretty clear that the government of a country is its actual owner. And in that case, the practical libertarian position is surely that the government can restrict entry to its property. (Whether it should, becomes a policy question.)

By the way, this viewpoint causes me to think differently about libertarianism: once you get rid of the somewhat artificial distinction between "non-government property owner" and "government", you realize that libertarianism can be reframed as a policy formulation philosophy for the government (and one that may easily be in conflict with democratically formed policies, for example). In this respect it differs fundamentally from anarchism, which is unable to work with government. The more I think about it, the more I think libertarianism's weakness, and the reason why it is constantly confused with anarchism, may lie in its failure to properly incorporate government.

Noah Carl writes:

There are quite a lot of numbers out there that you must have missed:

https://twitter.com/KirkegaardEmil/status/851533830154588161

Jon Murphy writes:

@Ben Kennedy:

If a thief's preferred location is inside my living room, am I "coercing" him by locking my door?

This comparison does not work for three reasons:

1) It begs the question (part of Bryan's point is that citizens do not "own" the country. Your house example assumes this objection away).

2) Following from my #1 above, a country is not a house, even in the metaphorical sense.

3) It is coercion because a third party is blocking the peaceful interaction of two parties (in this case, "capitalist acts between consenting adults"). If it is coercion for the government to block trade, to put up onerous regulations, and the like, then it logically follows that immigration, which like the above is the disruption of peaceful acts between consenting adults, is also coercive.

For the sake of argument, let's grant the assumption that the citizens "own" the country, and thus your metaphor of the country as a house does hold. Then the act of restricting immigration is still coercive. In keeping with a metaphor, if you lock your door and a person still gets in, and you threaten them with a gun to get out or you're calling the police (or even if it is implied by the exterior of your house, say with a sign to that effect or a "this house is protected by XYZ Security sign), that is still coercion. It is legitimized coercion, yes, but coercion nonetheless. The threat (which is all that is necessary for coercion) is: if you cross this threshold, something bad will happen (either arrest, deportation, etc). That is coercive behavior.

Robert writes:

Bryan seems to contradicts himself in 9. He says that "immigrants are more economically liberal and socially conservative than natives", and that "immigrants are much more Democratic than natives". Last time I checked, Democrats were not very economically liberal or socially conservative.

Ben Kennedy writes:
The threat (which is all that is necessary for coercion) is: if you cross this threshold, something bad will happen (either arrest, deportation, etc). That is coercive behavior.

Conceptually, the kind of "coercion" Bryan is objecting to falls perfectly into the classical self-defense of doing something like shooting a burglar. He's the one begging the question by using that word and saying it is the bad kind that Libertarians ought to object to. If he wants to attack the idea of collective ownership that's fine, but the arguments are not particularly persuasive. He should stick to the consequentialist ones

Mark Bahner writes:
Let's say I rob Bryan blind. So the government arrests me and throws me into prison. Is this not a severe act of coercion by the government? If so, then why is this ok but not to keep immigrants out?

Because immigrants aren't robbing anyone blind. (Or if they do rob someone blind, then it's OK to throw them in prison.)

Let's say your neighbor sells his house to an immigrant. You don't have any say in that, because it's not your house. If you wanted a say, you should have bought the house from your neighbor. (I have personal experience with that situation.)

Or suppose an immigrant buys a piece of land in your town and builds a house. Again, you don't own that land. If you wanted to keep the immigrant from buying the land, you should have bought the land yourself.

Mark Bahner writes:
There are people open to discussing numbers and timing and skill levels and literacy and culture and all those fine points of nuance, and I think those people are intentionally persuasive. I think their arguments are productive. But I think the argument for open borders is counterproductive, and destructive, and a massive own goal. So Mark Kikorian must love to hear you speak, because you're really helping him.

Yes, my thoughts are similar. I think a far, far better strategy for Bryan would be to argue that we should accept all the highly educated and highly skilled immigrants we can. To me, that's an easily winnable point. Then, after that debate has been won, extend the debate to immigrants whose only current skill is shining shoes.

Mark Bahner writes:
For the sake of argument, let's grant the assumption that the citizens "own" the country, and thus your metaphor of the country as a house does hold. Then the act of restricting immigration is still coercive. In keeping with a metaphor, if you lock your door and a person still gets in, and you threaten them with a gun to get out or you're calling the police...

An even better analogy is that a married couple owns a house. One person likes a neighbor, but the other doesn't. Who decides, when the neighbor comes to the door, whether the neighbor can come into the house?

Tom DeMeo writes:

@Mark Bahner

Let's take your neighbor's house as an example. A nation is the top of the food chain as a unit of social organization. The nation establishes the context of "ownership", and what that actually means to your neighbor for his property. The very concept of ownership is meaningless without a much larger social organization comprised of members committed to defending it. This has historically meant sometimes people dying, often in large numbers.

So, your neighbor's house is just a building he may or may not be capable of defending. An open borders scheme is a fantasy. Nations exist because some people will always want to take things from other people. Nations provide a way for people to band together so we can own houses.


Christopher Chang writes:

How long would Apple/Google/Facebook/etc. remain top companies if they were forced to hire everyone who a single employee had a positive opinion of? The only reason you’d impose such a law on them is if you wanted to destroy them.

Note that this is not true of all major organizations. Wal-Mart might survive it just fine, for instance. But the set of potentially worthwhile organizations is much larger than the set of potentially worthwhile organizations with unrestrictive admission rules.

Tom Jackson writes:

I think Bryan does a particularly good job here.

I'm unconvinced by the claim that letting in lots of immigrants will move the country to the far left. Do the Cubans in Florida make Florida more leftist? Why would someone coming to America to look for opportunity want to vote for socialism?

Hazel Meade writes:

I like the policy you describe as "open borders", but I'm not sure it's what it's critics are objecting to. When people say "open borders" they think you mean a completely uncontrolled border, which would imply openness to (for example) Islamic terrorists to just walk across.

There's a reasonable libertarian position that there should be some sort of border security to prevent people with harmful intentions from entering the country, even if you grant everyone who just wants to come here to work a legal visa. Obviously that will involve some judgement calls and some background checks, but that's minor compared to the system we have now, which inflicts some profoundly inhumane harms on innocent people (i.e. peoples who were brought here illegally as young children).

Hazel Meade writes:

I honestly wonder who some people are so passionately committed to the idea of keeping immigrants out. I've never met anyone who has been seriously harmed by immigration. Immigrants are just people and not really harming anyone just by being here. Of all the problems in today's society, why fixate on immigration ?

Christopher Chang writes:

"Do the Cubans in Florida make Florida more leftist?"

Obama Ends Exemptions for Cubans Who Arrive Without Visas

What's the most plausible interpretation of the fact that Obama chose to restrict immigration in this one case, while not doing anything like this for any other country of origin?

"I've never met anyone who has been seriously harmed by immigration. Immigrants are just people and not really harming anyone just by being here. Of all the problems in today's society, why fixate on immigration?"

Why might you care about your employer's hiring bar? One possible reason is if you plan to stay there for a long time, in which case you are increasingly harmed over time if the bar is too low. This remains true to a lesser degree if you plan to stay invested in the company for a long time. Just because the harm is too diffuse for you to notice does not mean the harm isn't there.

Another major reason to care about immigration is difficulty of correcting mistakes, compared to other policy areas.

And, stepping back a bit, if you compare America's de facto low-skill immigration policy with America's trade and tech-transfer policies toward poor countries, it quickly becomes evident that the latter has done >10x as much for the global poor, while being *less* unpopular (outsourcing is a politically charged issue, but it's not as contentious as immigration). Canada and Australia acted on this information decades ago; their skill-based (yet still high-volume) immigration policies have allowed them to avoid the recent populist storm, while they continue to punch well above their weight when it comes to helping the developing world.

Mark Bahner writes:
An open borders scheme is a fantasy. Nations exist because some people will always want to take things from other people. Nations provide a way for people to band together so we can own houses.

Suppose the U.S. government accepts every immigration application every year...with the exception of anyone thought to represent a security concern during a thorough screening process.

Do you honestly think that could result in any credible scenario in which the U.S. is invaded? For example, you write that "Nations provide a way for people to band together so we can own houses." Do you honestly think that even if we let in every immigrant who applied (except those who can be identified as security concerns), somehow the nation would be more vulnerable to people taking our houses?

P.S. This is a reasonable place to salute 442nd infantry regiment of WWII, composed almost entirely of men of Japanese ancestry...and many of them first-generation Americans:

Motto: "Go for broke."

Mark Bahner writes:
How long would Apple/Google/Facebook/etc. remain top companies if they were forced to hire everyone who a single employee had a positive opinion of? The only reason you’d impose such a law on them is if you wanted to destroy them.

I think a better analogy is, "How long would any state last if it had to accept any new citizen who wanted to move from another state, and a single person in the first state was willing to sell him land, or rent to him?"

Kurt Schuler writes:

Hazel Meade, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were immigrants, though none were naturalized citizens. The Tsarnaev brothers, who bombed the 2013 Boston Marathon, were naturalized citizens. You may not personally know know anyone who has been seriously harmed by immigration, but thousands of people do.

Christopher Chang writes:

"I think a better analogy is, 'How long would any state last if it had to accept any new citizen who wanted to move from another state, and a single person in the first state was willing to sell him land, or rent to him?'"

That analogy obviously doesn't work because you can only sell a given piece of land once, and rent a given space to one party at a time. It just suggests that an immigration policy where one person had to voluntarily give up citizenship for each newcomer would be viable (which is true, though it's unnecessarily draconian).

Furthermore, national-level immigration policy constrains the effects of interstate migration.

Hazel Meade writes:

Hazel Meade, the perpetrators of the 9/11 attacks were immigrants, though none were naturalized citizens.

They were on student visas which are considered non-immigrant status. Unless you plan to ban all visitors from entering the country - sealing the borders completely, you wouldn't have kept them out with a more restrictive immigration policy.

Hazel Meade writes:

@Christopher Chang:

You cant divide a plot of land into smaller pieces, or build new housing?

Ron H. writes:

Christopher

"That analogy obviously doesn't work because you can only sell a given piece of land once, and rent a given space to one party at a time."

Actually that analogy works exactly, as your own argument proves.

Only the number of immigrants to a state or a country who can find a place to rent/buy and find a job can move to and remain in the state/country they have chosen. there is no difference in this case between state borders and national borders.

The idea of tens of millions or billions of immigrants beaming in from elsewhere is laughable.

Christopher Chang writes:

"Only the number of immigrants to a state or a country who can find a place to rent/buy and find a job can move to and remain in the state/country they have chosen."

A large change in population density (10+ people living in a space where formerly a family of 4 lived, etc.) has substantial side effects. Some communities are okay with this. Others enforce zoning laws which prevent this.

"The idea of tens of millions or billions of immigrants beaming in from elsewhere is laughable."

"Tens of millions" laughable when we already have tens of millions here? Meanwhile, the UAE is commonly cited as an immigration success story, and Wikipedia states that it has 7.8 million immigrants out of a total population of 9.2 million.

(An aside: it's pretty amazing how far the UAE has come in a few decades; indeed, I'd like to see at least a few more countries follow its example. However, their values are strikingly different from ours; you can work their your entire life, but if you're e.g. Indian it's likely that neither you nor your children will ever become citizens; you're forever second-class. This kind of system is not viable in a US that fought a civil war partly to end permanent-second-class status, and I'm not optimistic about any other Western country's willingness to adopt it, either.)

The natural end point for unrestricted immigration is when conditions in the US are about the same as conditions outside it. The natural end point for the US's trade/tech-transfer policies combined with something more like Canada's immigration policy is also a world where conditions in the US are about the same as conditions outside it (and, incidentally, political resistance to open borders can be expected to be far lower at that point)... but the absolute level will be much higher, as we can already see in e.g. the first generation of Asian tigers.

Christopher Chang writes:

"Some communities are okay with this. Others enforce zoning laws which prevent this."

Oops, didn't finish this part.

In both cases, laws have slowly adapted over time to the overall population supply/demand situation. The set of constraints that keeps most existing community members happy under the current US equilibrium is unlikely to work under today's global immigration equilibrium (though it may have a better chance in tomorrow's global equilibrium, after several more decades of Third World catch-up growth, acculturation, etc.). I'm fine with communities of people voluntarily opting into the global equilibrium, but forcing the entire country to switch against the supermajority will is absurd.

Gian writes:
UAE is commonly cited as an immigration success story, and Wikipedia states that it has 7.8 million immigrants out of a total population of 9.2 million.

These "immigrants" have no rights whatsoever and are liable to deportation at any time. They are more properly called guest workers.

Mark writes:

Christopher Chang

"The natural end point for unrestricted immigration is when conditions in the US are about the same as conditions outside it."

This is clearly false. Free flow of labor between geographical regions doesn't lead to total homogenization (or even get close to it), and is even sometimes concomitant with divergence between regions. In the US, economic divergence between regions has occurred over long periods of time despite a lack of migration restrictions; or look at Bangalore compared to the rest of India. The Eastern seaboard of China hasn't even 'come down' to the level of inland China despite massive migration from the former to the latter.

More over, if the 'condition' is just some statistic like median income, then it is irrelevant. I don't get poorer when poor people move into my city. It makes no sense to worry about a statistic going down due to compositional changes.

Weir writes:

If you can imagine a ridiculously extreme version of an idea, that's how you take that idea seriously. You're picking up the idea and taking a closer look at it. The technology doesn't exist, outside of Star Trek, to beam in from anywhere, but the idea's supposed to still make sense regardless of any empirical impediment to its full flowering or its being carried out to its utmost.

The idea is that "moving billions of workers from countries where their labor produces little to countries where their labor produces a lot" would massively improve world GDP. And it would. World GDP would massively improve, but less so at warp speed.

Partly because the backlash would be massive too. It shouldn't be too hard to imagine a scenario in which politicians continue doing what they're already doing. Imagine the massive improvement to world GDP if the price of real estate in Palo Alto wasn't prohibitively expensive, prohibiting the free flow of Americans within America. There are highly-skilled people in libertarian Houston who can't afford to move to progressive Palo Alto. Imagine that.

And people with no imagination at all can always read up on how politicians from Miami to Austin to Seattle are already, right now, standing up to defend the privileges of their richest citizens.

"Democracies listen to the relatively libertarian rich far more than they listen to the absolutely statist non-rich," in Bryan's words. And the rich are only relatively libertarian. They cling pretty tight to their subsidies, and their rents, and their advantages.

The mortgage interest deduction is utterly sacred, a sacrament, to people who think the first amendment is old hat. And remember how wealthy progressives went after Obama when he tried to rein in something as destructive as section 529? The rich are relatively libertarian without being particularly libertarian. That's another idea worth taking seriously. How bad can the backlash get? How many millions upon millions of destructive and restrictive regulations and ordinances can politicians, in every city in every country in the world, come up with to make sure that world GDP isn't allowed to massively improve?

I can imagine a really un-rosy scenario in which "the absolutely statist non-rich" vote for Corbyn or Sanders or Trump or don't vote at all, and it doesn't matter either way. The real problem is how the rich skilfully defend their privileges and their children's privileges, all the while talking about how "not" racist they are, and how "not" heartless they are. Plenty of wealthy progressives are passionately committed to the idea of keeping poor people out of Portland. Poor people are just people who happen to cheer for vulgar demagogues and watch Duck Dynasty and use gauche language, but wealthy progressive parents are terrified that their kids might pick up even those bad habits from people a couple suburbs down the road.

Even in New Zealand, where the excellent Bill English was prime minister until a couple days ago, an anti-immigration socialist has cobbled together a coalition with an anti-immigration nationalist to undo the last nine years of progress and prosperity. That's how the politics of immigration poisons everything. It's like immigration is going to become this single issue that takes the reform of anything else off the table, everywhere. And Bryan, for one, couldn't be more eager to make immigration the single issue that divides people into the children of darkness and the children of light. I mean, if you're not 100% convinced that Bryan's predictions will all come true with no downsides, you're a "nothing" person, right?

Warp speed is Sartre. Anything less than warp speed is Camus. Sartre had his armchair facing in the direction of history, and Camus had a mother riding a tram. Call it a cruel equilibrium, but Camus was the sensible one.

Christopher Chang writes:

"This is clearly false. Free flow of labor between geographical regions doesn't lead to total homogenization (or even get close to it), and is even sometimes concomitant with divergence between regions. In the US, economic divergence between regions has occurred over long periods of time despite a lack of migration restrictions; or look at Bangalore compared to the rest of India. The Eastern seaboard of China hasn't even 'come down' to the level of inland China despite massive migration from the former to the latter."

The Chinese government is responsible for both the people in the Eastern seaboard and those in the rest of the country. Public support for it depends on how the people as a whole are doing. That didn't stop them from doing crazy things that harmed much of the populace back in the 60s, but it's reasonable to treat them as having been a rational actor trying to maximize aggregate Chinese outcomes for the last ~40 years.

And what do we see? Yes, there has been substantial internal migration to the Eastern seaboard, but this has been constrained by the hukou system. And when the Chinese government got Hong Kong back in 1997, they didn't tear down the border. Instead, they protected it--migration from the mainland to HK remains limited today--while working to replicate its success in Shenzhen, Shanghai, and elsewhere. It turns out that's easier when you have a relatively undisturbed working copy.

Some of the internal migration restrictions may not have been necessary, but we can see that they didn't prevent China from being the biggest economic success story of the last half-century. Freer borders than that are, at best, optional; there is no justification for forcing them on citizens who don't want them.

As for heterogeneity, the US is heterogeneous today. I never claimed that would stop being true. I just made a statement about what the overall distribution of conditions in the US could be expected to look like with and without open borders.

"More over, if the 'condition' is just some statistic like median income, then it is irrelevant. I don't get poorer when poor people move into my city. It makes no sense to worry about a statistic going down due to compositional changes."

Apple and Google/Alphabet are the two most highly-valued companies in the world right now. Under your model, where voluntary concentration of high-skill people is irrelevant, what are the odds that either, let alone both (plus Facebook, not far behind), end up being based in the merely medium-population Santa Clara Valley? There are quite a few other cities with at least a comparable number of high-skill people. And why is the other major tech hub, Seattle, also characterized by just a medium-size population? The empirical evidence indicates that a disproportionate amount of the innovation that moves the entire world forward comes from places with a high *fraction* of great people, not just a high number. The "chemical reaction rate" is higher.

In addition, compositional changes have practical consequences in a democracy in a way they don't in e.g. a UAE-style absolute monarchy.

Bedarz Iliachi writes:

A country or its territory is not something ownable, even in principle.
So, it is neither the citizens that own a country nor it is the government that owns.

The national territory is possessed by the said nation. The distinction between owning a thing and possessing a thing is something entirely ignored by economists but is valid nevertheless.

A thing is owned when it is secured by arguments, the kind of arguments that are made in law courts when they judge on the ownership claims.

Now, arguments can only proceed to conclusion when premises are shared between the persons arguing.
Now, a political community is just the place wherein premises are shared as to the land ownership. This virtually defines political community. Thus, the English law gave land ownership through homesteading but the tribal American-Indian law didn't.

National territory, in contrast, is secured through brute force. There is no law that secures parcels of American national territory from foreign conquest. Only the national might of America secures it.

Mark Bahner writes:

I asked Tom DeMeo:

Suppose the U.S. government accepts every immigration application every year...with the exception of anyone thought to represent a security concern during a thorough screening process.

Do you honestly think that could result in any credible scenario in which the U.S. is invaded?

That question is open to anyone who favors limiting immigration...BEYOND limits that exclude individuals who appear to be a potential security concern.

The reason I ask the question is that there doesn't appear to me to be any security reason for limiting immigration (BEYOND limits that exclude individuals who appear to be a potential security concern).


Mark Bahner writes:
I'm fine with communities of people voluntarily opting into the global equilibrium, but forcing the entire country to switch against the supermajority will is absurd.

I'm not sure how you arrive at knowing what a "supermajority" in the U.S. want. Here are the results of one poll:

Americans’ opinions of immigrants have changed in recent years. In a new Pew Research Center survey, about six-in-ten U.S. adults (63%) say that immigrants strengthen the country through their hard work and talents. By contrast, about one-fourth (27%) say immigrants are a burden to the U.S. by taking jobs, housing and health care. The U.S. public’s views of immigrants have largely reversed since the 1990s, when 63% said immigrants were a burden for the country and just under a third (31%) said immigrants strengthened the nation.
Christopher Chang writes:

Mark Bahner, if you’re fine with letting the American people decide immigration policy through the usual political process, then we no longer have any substantive disagreement.

As for the specific poll results, the Canadian-style immigration policy I’ve been recommending for more than a decade does not involve a reduction in the absolute immigration level. It is easy enough to extrapolate from Canada/Australia’s experience on the one hand and US/European election results on the other that high-skill immigration is a winner and unrestricted low-skill immigration is a huge loser. And I have explained above (Garett Jones has gone into far more detail) why this political pattern plausibly reflects expected changes to global, not just national, utility.

Ron H. writes:

Christopher

"The natural end point for unrestricted immigration is when conditions in the US are about the same as conditions outside it."

That's clearly not true. We see evidence to the contrary pretty much anywhere we care to look. For example regions within the US are far from homogeneous despite complete freedom to migrate across state borders.


Christopher Chang writes:

Ron H., I clarified in a later comment that I was referring to what the overall distribution of conditions in the US could be expected to look like with and without near-future open borders. One distribution can be clearly worse than another, even when there’s a significant amount of dispersion in both.

This is a straightforward extrapolation from a comparison between the continental US-Puerto Rico system and many US-[formerly dirt-poor Asian trading partner] systems. A massive improvement in Puerto Rico’s conditions, along with better assimilation of Puerto Ricans who now live on the mainland, would be good first steps toward a world where open borders makes sense for the US.

Party at Bryan's place tonight. Dibs on the Guinness and the couch after 2 a.m.

1. Earth's human population cannot grow without limit.
2. Earth's maximum possible instantaneous human population exceeds Earth's maximum possible sustainable human population.
3. Earth's maximum possible sustainable human population leaves little room for wilderness or large non-human terrestrial animals.
4. Value is determined by supply and demand*, therefore ...
5. A world in which human life is precious is a world in which human life is scarce.
6. Earth's human population will stop growing when either (a) the birth rate falls to meet the death rate or (b) the death rate rises to meet the birth rate.
7. Earth's human population will stop growing as a result of (a) deliberate human agency or (b) other.
8. Deliberate human agency is either (a) democratically controlled or (b) other.
9. For every locality A the term "the government of A" names the largest dealer in interpersonal violence in that locality**.
10. All human behavioral traits are heritable***, therefore ...
11. Voluntary programs for population control selectively breed non-compliant individuals.
12. Politicians will not impose limits on human reproduction so long as other countries accept excess growth.
13. Human misery is like heat; in the absence of barriers it will flow until it is evenly distributed.
Build the wall.

*This is not an axiom of capitalist economics or even human economics; it is a fact of life. Compare the leaf-surface to root mass ration of plants of the tropical rainforest floor to the leaf-surface to root mass ratio of plants of the Sonoran desert.
** Definition, after Max Weber.
*** Turkheimer.

To: The people of China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Brazil, Egypt, Nigeria, and elsewhere
From: Bryan Caplan and the DNCC

The taxpayers of the US promise to everyone who can afford a one-way ticket to any US airport or seaport the following:
1. A secure place to sleep
2. A nutritious diet
3. Unlimited medical treatment
4. Schools for your children

PS. Vote Democrat (or Libertarian)

Party at Bryan's place tonight. Dibs on the Guinness and the couch after 2 a.m.

Mark Bahner writes:
13. Human misery is like heat; in the absence of barriers it will flow until it is evenly distributed. Build the wall.

If human misery is like heat, why don't all 50 U.S. states have the same per-capita income? And within states, why doesn't every town and city have the same per-capita income?

Tom DeMeo writes:

@Mark Bahner

"I asked Tom DeMeo:

Suppose the U.S. government accepts every immigration application every year...with the exception of anyone thought to represent a security concern during a thorough screening process.
Do you honestly think that could result in any credible scenario in which the U.S. is invaded?"

Let's stipulate that we are also talking about Bryan's item #1.

I think it would result in hundreds of millions of people coming here within a year or two. I think it would cause political destabilization and large scale violence. I think it would require a complete reset of every element of government and law.

(Bahner): "If human misery is like heat, why don't all 50 U.S. states have the same per-capita income? And within states, why doesn't every town and city have the same per-capita income?"
I'm not sure. Explanations would fall under two broad categories: time (flow isn't instantaneous) and barriers (in a prosperous Iowa farming community, for example, most land is occupied).

Mark Bahner writes:
Mark Bahner, if you’re fine with letting the American people decide immigration policy through the usual political process, then we no longer have any substantive disagreement.

What alternate method outside the usual political process did you think I was proposing for setting immigration policy? Rock, paper, scissors (lizard, Spock)? ;-)

As for the specific poll results, the Canadian-style immigration policy I’ve been recommending for more than a decade does not involve a reduction in the absolute immigration level.

Yes, this is where I think Bryan's tactics go seriously off the rails. (Unless his goal is vigorous debate that gets nowhere.)

Per the N.Y. Times, the per-capita immigration rate to Canada is about three times the per-capita immigration rate into the U.S.:


Canada's ruthlessly smart immigration policy

Yet, their high immigration rate is apparently very popular (per the Times):

Far from producing a backlash, Canadian voters couldn’t be happier about it. Recent polls show that 82 percent think immigration has a positive impact on the economy, and two-thirds see multiculturalism as one of Canada’s key positive features. (They rank it higher than hockey. Hockey!)

So I think if Bryan really wants to build momentum towards support of higher immigration, he ought to be looking to the Great White North. :-)

[html fixed—Econlib Ed.]

Kurt Schuler writes:

Two words to close the thread: Sayfullo Saipov.

Blazej Sarnecki writes:

1) Helping people by relocating them to a different country is not effective in the long-run in socialist countries.

2) The mass immigration puts high pressure on the socialist system as in many cases it encourages intentional unemployment rather than promote work.

3) If world policies would allow free trade to exist, other countries with lower wages and running costs would attract more investors which would allow the country to work itself out of poverty. Protectionism only protects companies and hurt people & consumers.

4) In our current socialist system, I don't agree with free movement of people as it encourages influx of human garbage who don't want to work. If a country would provide nothing but freedom and work to even it's own people, it would attract immigrants who only want to work, which would benefit all of us.

The United States of America was built not by social welfare, but through immigration of people who wanted to work.

Blazej Sarnecki writes:

1) Helping people by relocating them to a different country is not effective in the long-run in socialist countries.

2) The mass immigration puts high pressure on the socialist system as in many cases it encourages intentional unemployment rather than promote work.

3) If world policies would allow free trade to exist, other countries with lower wages and running costs would attract more investors which would allow the country to work itself out of poverty. Protectionism only protects companies and hurt people & consumers.

4) In our current socialist system, I don't agree with free movement of people as it encourages influx of human garbage who don't want to work. If a country would provide nothing but freedom and work to even it's own people, it would attract immigrants who only want to work, which would benefit all of us.

The United States of America was built not by social welfare, but through immigration of people who wanted to work.

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