Current Events, Academic Philosophy

Open Borders True and False

This has been the summer of immigration. And it’s not a good thing. The violence in Syria alone has caused millions of people to seek refuge in Europe. And Europe, in old fashioned style, is trying its very hardest to turn them away. I don’t buy that I am responsible for what my fellow nationals do or say. Nevertheless, I am embarrassed.

When I tell people I am in favor of open borders, they often bring up cases like this. But what, they snicker, about things like the European refugee crisis? Isn’t the implication of the open borders position clearly that we must let all those people in? And doesn’t that clearly reduce the position to the absurd?

The standard response here is to make a distinction. There is a difference, it is said, between normal immigrants, often labeled “economic” migrants, and refugees. The people fleeing the Syrian conflict are refugees, and that means their claims to enter better countries are categorically different. Theirs is a much stronger claim, than those of “mere” immigrants.

Let’s set aside the obvious. The claims of refugees are extremely weighty. Their lives are at stake and they are trying to make a better life for themselves and their loved ones. Only the extremely callous would begrudge them that.

But the distinction is suspicious. It makes sense only if we first accept that countries have a right to deny people entry at all. Only if we concede that does the weighing up of differential claims begin to matter. Yet, if we concede that, it also becomes much easier to resist even the claims of refugees. Perhaps countries in the region should shelter these people. Perhaps it’s someone else’s problem. Perhaps we have done enough. Perhaps … who knows what.

The point should not be conceded. Most readers here will be familiar with Michael Huemer’s arguments. If you are not, check them out here. I have taken on more interesting and challenging defenses of closed borders myself here. I will be blogging more about this soon. (I promise.) The upshot: an honest reading of the arguments pro and con, I believe, is that there is no good justification for countries’ purported right to exclude migrants, full stop. And if no good justification exists, there is no difference between the “mere” immigrant and the refugee. Both come looking for a safer, better life. Both would like to make such a life for themselves, if only we let them. And both have as good a claim of being here as we might.

This is the truth that the snickerers see. Whatever we see about refugees will have implications about what we say about immigration in general. But that is about as far as it goes. For what’s false in their view is at least as important.

Suppose that the influx of refugees is really too much for Europe to handle. Suppose that letting these people in would really endanger social and political stability in the ways that the doomsayers claim. These are empirical conjectures, but let’s grant them for the moment. Imagine that things are really dire. What of it? Is this really the reductio ad absurdum of the open borders position?

Let’s make something absolutely clear. Even if the open borders view were committed to allowing all Syrian refugees unfettered access, it is by no means obvious that this constitutes a reductio. People are dying. Keeping them out – with razor wire, no less – is not something I’d like to stand for.

But the real mistake here is this to think that the test of a theory is how it performs in exceptional circumstances. The mistake is that we can find out what is true in general by looking at the exception. The Syrian crisis is an emergency situation, and the millions of refugees it has caused are trying to escape it. This is not run-of-the-mill stuff.

Philosophers often like to exploit these kind of cases. We search for counter-examples. But social and political life often does not allow for this way of reasoning. The fact that a drowning person can grab the nearest lifesaver – even though it’s not his – does not disprove the existence of property rights. And similarly, the fact – if it is a fact – that sudden and overwhelming influxes of migration ought to be regulated or controlled does not disprove that generally borders ought to be open. The exception is not the rule.

  • Jameson Graber

    I find myself much more sensitive than my fellow open borders proponents to the argument that massive immigration would lead to political instability. Others seem to be willing to bite that bullet. I’m not, I don’t think. At this point I favor open borders because I don’t buy the argument. I don’t see any sufficient theoretical arguments for it. And as for empirical arguments, well, we’ve never been given a real test, have we? Yet the best test case we do have is probably the United States during the height of its immigration influx, and by all accounts that influx was a net positive. So, if you buy that we ought to have a moral presumption in favor of open borders (and everyone should–the arguments are sound), then I would argue the empirical evidence does not warrant opposition.

    • Sean II

      Having fought it out with team open borders longer than I should have, I notice you guys invariably end up taking one or more of the following positions:

      A) Immigration can’t change culture.
      B) It can, but only and always for the better.
      C) Okay, immigration can change culture, and possibly for the worse, but I somehow have evidence satisfying me that’s not going to happen.
      D) It doesn’t matter if immigration changes our culture for the worse, we’re morally obliged to allow it anyway.

      Problem: two of these positions are absurd (A & B), one is crazy in the same way as overloading a lifeboat until it sinks (D), and the other (C) is just a brazen bluff, for the reason you gave above.

      Left-wing border openers believe B). Their official position is that more diversity is always an improvement, and the only thing you can have too much of is white dudes.

      Some libertarians will lead off with A), but under pressure they usually end up switching to one of the other options.

      You’ve chosen C). Problem with that: how would we know if you’re wrong? How would evidence ever be admitted to the contrary?

      One of the defining features of Western culture today is that, on the high side, it does not permit criticism of diversity. The people who make our empirical evidence – i.e. intellectuals – especially refuse to engage in or even tolerate such criticism. This faith is near as their class gets to a universal religion.

      It follows that anything which goes wrong under an open immigration policy will hastily and angrily be assigned to other causes. The answer will never be “we were wrong about the endless benefits of immigration”. The answer will always have to be “any problems with immigration are the work of those who doubt it!”

      If, say, Sweden ends up with a dramatic increase in its rape rate as the result of demographic and cultural change, there’ll always be some Stieg Larrson to comfort us with the illusion that, no indeed, these crimes aren’t being perpetrated by immigrants, they’re being perpetrated by the same sort of evil white rich guys who don’t even have sense enough to support immigration!

      It won’t matter that this is a complete lie, obvious to just about anyone except ideologues and intellectuals.

      It will only matter that no one is allowed to call it a lie in the public sphere, without forfeiting all claim to respectability.

      All of which means: your position C) is functionally the same as B). You beging by saying “diversity looks good to me, but I reserve the right to change my mind if the evidence says so”, but this last part is an imposture. In our world, you’re not really allowed to change your mind about that.

      • Jameson Graber

        As usual, Sean, you make far too many assumptions. Your list is not as exhaustive as you think it is.

        You seem to think that culture is simply genetic: whatever culture you have, your children will have, and so on. That’s a reasonable assumption up to a certain point, but culture is much bigger than that. Actually, the multiculturalist left doesn’t seem to get this, either, which is why I’m not one of the multiculturalist left. Cultures don’t need to be preserved or even “tolerated.” People who get upset about “cultural appropriation” are just being silly. Culture is made to be transmitted–not just from parents to children, but across families and even across national boundaries. A lot of people are upset about the “americanization” of the world. I say, why not? As long as the ideas and practices which are spreading are actually good, that’s a great thing. Of course, what people are really saying is that American practices and ideas are often bad, and there may be something to that. But I digress.

        The point is that in my view, whether or not “culture” survives is not a question of who lives where. It’s a question of how successful the ideas and practices of that culture are at allowing people to cooperate. Again, this is Hayek. Cultural evolution is *not* biological evolution. Human beings are born imitators–we are social learners. We learn whatever system saturates our environment. We can aid the process of cultural transmission through schools, churches, advertisements, TV shows, whatever. The fate of a culture depends on how good the culture is and how good we are at transmitting it.

        Now, you’re talking about culture and then you suddenly slide into talking about crime. There is a good argument to be made against open borders, which basically says we need to maintain a certain ratio of police to general population, so we need to control the influx of immigrants in order to account for that. That’s a plausible argument, which might be responded to with one of the “key hole solutions” that open borders proponents suggest. But the argument you make seems to be some sort of ethnic determinism in which people have no choice but to commit crime at a higher rate because of where they’re from. There’s a word for that thinking: it’s called racism. And if our Western culture has developed a sensitivity against racism, I think that’s because it’s wrong. But feel free to keep scrounging for research that supports your racism.

        If people commit crime, punish them. If deportation is really an acceptable punishment for foreign criminals, I don’t see why it isn’t acceptable for criminals who were born here. All human beings should be treated as equals, and as responsible moral agents.

        • Sean II

          Right, so that whole response boils down to C), as I said.

          You don’t deny that a culture can change for the worse, you just don’t think ours will. That’s C).

          True, you add a bit of spice with your suggestion that culture evolves based on “how successful the ideas and practices of that culture are at allowing people to cooperate.” But really that’s just whig history, with Fred Hayek’s name unjustly attached.

          Everything after that is mere name-calling.

          My point remains: in the end, every open border advocate ends up arguing from at least one of those four positions.

          • KBalakri

            “If you like your culture, you can keep your culture.”

          • Jameson Graber

            “You don’t deny that a culture can change for the worse, you just don’t think ours will”

            I never said that. Maybe our culture will change for the worse, but I think that will be largely our own doing. Or maybe it won’t. Either way, it is not predetermined by rates of immigration.

            I will add that I think a culture which is less welcoming toward immigrants is already a worse culture than one which is more welcoming. So the more we close our borders, the more we degrade our culture in a moral sense.

          • Sean II

            “I will add that I think a culture which is less welcoming toward immigrants is already a worse culture than one which is more welcoming.”

            Okay, but now you’re just nibbling into bullet D), saying “welcoming to immigrants” is a moral/cultural value that trumps other values like “safe for women”, etc. You’d rather sink the cultural lifeboat than make it exclusive. That’s D).

            In fact, so far you’ve failed to do two things: 1) take a positions that isn’t one of the four I listed, or 2) defend one of those four as a position worth holding.

          • Jameson Graber

            Oh, no, I failed to satisfy Sean. Too bad.

          • Sean II

            Well, you did satisfy King Goat, and lord knows he was a sincere undecided before just now.

          • King Goat

            It seems he’s spent quite a bit of time defending his positions while you’re busy saying ‘your positions fall into these categories I’ve come up with, which ipse dixit are not sound!’

          • Jameson Graber

            As for the “name calling,” Sean, the ethnic determinism you’re basing your argument on really is called racism. That is a completely rational assessment.

          • Bryan C. Winter

            For me, immigration is a simple market problem. People want ‘access’ and we artifically deny it, and this creates a black market in the form of illegal immigration. So the idea of closed borders is also absurd, because then you have immigrants anyway.

            So some practical element needs to enter the debate. Why is no one suggesting the ‘capitalist’ route and simply meeting the demand with some kind of sales scheme? You can enter the country, but you need to pay taxes for x years and receive limited benifits over that time? An earned citizenship in the literal sense.

            It would have the benifit of being relatively unmanaged and dynamic, responsive to actual human need instead of arbitrary goverment writ, slow the growth of immigration to a rate the country can absorb, and provide recourse for illegal immigrants other than deportation that is actually practical. Since we allow anyone to come into the country, we aren’t actually denying them entry, so that fixes the moral question. People should be morally entitled to live anywhere they want, but they are not morally entitled to say social security benifits.

            Skilled immigrants could easily pay the fees up front to come here, or companies that need labor can cover fees for them, so that we can meet demand for labor, and any costs associated with unskilled immigration is paid for by the immigrants themselves instead of soceity at large.

            As far as ‘culture’ goes, yeah it can change our culture. But my view is cultures evolve over time in a free soceity, and evolution will tend to produce good results over time, so this really doesn’t bother me. I can drink a beer with brown people on a porch listening to spanish music, as well as i can with white people in a sports bar.

          • Jameson Graber

            I agree with you. No one but we crazy open borders activists are proposing a “capitalist” solution. I guess that’s because the left doesn’t like facing economic realities and the right doesn’t like cultural change.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            I would be much more impressed with such a market approach, at least in that way we would know if a person coming into the nation wasn’t a criminal, terrorist, or harboring a deadly disease.

          • Ethan Trice

            That’s ludicrous. immigration isn’t like drugs. If you legalize immigration in certain capacities, all you do increase the odds of criminality from those coming illegally (as they weren’t able to pass the legal requirements). honestly, the open border argument is untenable for the four reasons listed above but also a 4th: the welfare state. There are conflicting stats out there, but it’s quite clear that people come to Western nations for the social safety nets (public schools being one of them). If you have a welfare state you cannot have open immigration unless you want to destroy your economy (which is already happening in large part from the welfare state). There is also the high unemployment rate in addition to the welfare numbers. With more immigrants you either get more native citizens on welfare or you get immigrants on welfare or you get immigrants committing crimes. They don’t add jobs. in addition to that, the cultural argument is important. People from South America are largely left-authoritarian and primarily economic (not political) refugees. for example, the two main parties in mexico are members of the socialist international. Allowing open immigration will simply increase the number of leftist voters and will create a more socialist state. if you wish to live in a libertarian society, it has to be a closed group of libertarians. if that sounds counter-intuitive, well that’s because no ideology on paper works perfectly in practice.

          • Sean II

            You miss my point. I don’t give damn what you call me, but calling something racist isn’t the same as calling it not true.

            And your definition of racism, JG, takes in a long list of obviously true statements.

            Recall from my original comment: it is a real danger for your position – “let the empirical evidence decide” – if people cannot DISCUSS the empirical evidence.

            Because in the game you play, when one party says “here is X, a fact”, the other party does NOT respond by saying “no, X is not really a fact, and here’s why”. Rather he responds by saying “to discuss X is racist”, which leaves the truth or falsehood of X unaddressed.

            It could hardly be more obvious that this is meant to avoid discussion, not invite it.

          • Jameson Graber

            You’re right. I’m not going to welcome that discussion, Sean. You’re free to believe that racism is a true theory of human societies, and you can search for research that supports it. But I’m not even going to entertain the idea. I’m sure you find that incredibly doctrinaire, but I really don’t care.

          • King Goat

            First you reject racist ideas. The next thing you’ll do is reject flat earth ones. Anything to avoid a real debate!

          • Sean II

            Good. There we have it then. You really have no interest in discussing the evidence. That was just a bluff.

            For you, to label something as racist is a perfect substitute for showing it false. Perhaps…even better than showing it false?

          • King Goat

            He didn’t just yell racism and stomp off. He said that this idea that your argument rests on, that not only immigrants but their children and children’s children will bring crime to their destinations is one of a type, racist, that is not well received by most today precisely because it’s been so thoroughly discredited so many times in so many ways in the past. You seem upset (and at the same time oddly triumphalist) because he’s just not re-willing to go over that with you.

          • Sean II

            Here’ the story Goat:

            JG commented first, saying (well, read it) that he was not as doctrinaire as other open borders guys, that he was willing to consider the evidence, but that in his case he sees nothing strong enough to overcome a presumption in favor, etc.

            Just now, he brazenly announced “I’m not even going to entertain the idea” – the idea in this case being that not all inflowing populations will be net positive for a culture, or at least not in numbers unlimited.

            So, yeah…I’m about as triumphalist as what’s-his-name was in that movie where he tricked Jack Nicholson into confessing on the stand.

            This dude started out saying he’s open to discuss an idea, and ended up testily saying he won’t even entertain it.

          • King Goat

            I think I see the problem. When he said he was willing to consider the evidence he was talking about “the argument that massive immigration would lead to political instability.” He clarifies what he’s getting at by this later: “There is a good argument to be made against open borders, which basically says we need to maintain a certain ratio of police to general population, so we need to control the influx of immigrants in order to account for that.”

            He never said he’s interested in a discussion in what he sees you as proposing: “But the argument you make seems to be some sort of ethnic determinism in which people have no choice but to commit crime at a higher rate
            because of where they’re from.” As he says, he thinks that argument has been discussed a plenty in our history, was decisively found wanting, and therefore he has no interest in revisiting it (” And if our Western culture has developed a sensitivity against racism, I think that’s because it’s wrong. But feel free to keep scrounging for research that supports your racism.”).

          • Jameson Graber

            “Just now, he brazenly announced “I’m not even going to entertain the idea” – the idea in this case being that not all inflowing populations will be net positive for a culture, or at least not in numbers unlimited.”

            That is a complete lie. You’re putting words in my mouth.

          • Sean II

            Your kidding, right? It’s just two comments up from here. You said “I’m not even going to entertain the idea”.

            It’s right there. It’s STILL there now. At least have the sense to edit that out of your comment before denying it!

          • Jameson Graber

            At least have the sense to understand what you read before commenting on it. I’m not going to rehash this whole conversation with you.

          • Sean II

            Oh, I see. By “I’m not even going to entertain the idea”, you meant some OTHER idea, not one of the ones contained in any of my comments. That seems totally fair.

            In other words, you were straw-manning me in that moment, and now you cry foul because I had the audacity to assume “the idea” referred to something we were actually discussing.

            Such a sportsman, you are!

          • Jameson Graber

            Indeed. You’re not very astute, are you?

            “The idea” referred to racism, obviously. So either respond by explaining why your ideas aren’t racist (see point 2 in my other comment), or gtfo.

          • Sean II

            “The idea” referred to racism, and you used “racism” to describe something in my comments.

            Yep. I’m clearly nuts for thinking that what you refuse to entertain was something in my comments.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            Has that Idea really been discredited ? I think not, In the USA we have been lucky so far, there has certainly been some imported crime but most immigrants have not been criminal. In Europe the situation is quite different. Look at the rates of crime committed by immigrants in the Scandinavian nations, places which until recently knew very little crime.

          • Jameson Graber

            If I were merely labeling it racist, then you’d have a point to make. But your conception of things, as you’ve presented it, satisfies the definition of racism: “the belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.”

            Do you disagree?

          • Sean II

            Of course I don’t agree with that misrepresentation of… everything I ever wrote here.

            The definition of racist that goes: “one who ascribes to ALL members of group the average characteristics of that group” is a perfectly good definition. Indeed it’s the one I prefer.

            Let me quickly prove I’m not a racist according to THAT definition. I hold ALL of these statements true: A: “Black guys on average are better sprinters than white guys” B: “For any individual black guy chosen at random, odds are he’s NOT a good sprinter”. C: “Good and bad sprinters can be found in all major racial and ethnic groups” D: “But…as anyone knows who understands how a normal distribution works, the fact that black guys are better sprinters on average means that a disproportionate number of the world’s BEST sprinters will indeed turn out to be black”. See, there.

            But this isn’t the definition you seem to use when you say racist. Your definition looks much more like: “one who is willing to discuss the fact that groups HAVE average characteristics, and even more horribly, to talk about WHY they might differ in these, and HOW this information might sometimes be used to explain social phenomena”.

            Of that I am certainly guilty. I already gave one example, but here’s another: A: “On average, immigrants of non European origin living in Sweden are more likely to commit crimes, especially violent sex crimes, than ethnic Swedes.” B: “Recent changes in Sweden’s crime rates tend strongly to confirm this, as the increase neatly tracks the growth of non-European populations there.” C: “This might have something to do with the fact that much of this population hails from places where women’s rights are not well respected.”. D: “Factors like the impact of population change on crime, particularly on this hideous kind of crime, are perfectly relevant when discussing public policy”.

            But most importantly, E: “Anyone who can’t say WHY Sweden’s crime rate changed, should probably not go around telling people he “won’t even entertain” X as a possible cause…even if X turns out to be the idea that much of the upward pressure comes from culturally or genetically transmitted average group behaviors, borne on the backs of those new arrivals from Africa and Arabia.”

          • Jameson Graber

            OK, I want you to consider two points.

            1) I’m glad you brought up the example of black guys being *on average* better sprinters than white guys. Now here’s an analogous example. Let’s say a group of immigrants has *on average* a higher rate of a certain type of crime than the native population. It can simultaneously be true that the vast majority of those immigrants are not criminals at all. So consider: since you are willing to restrict immigration, are you really suggesting that we prohibit the movement of many because of the possible future behavior of the few? Isn’t that akin to prohibiting all white guys from trying out for the track team?

            2) Since you deny that anything you’ve said is racist, why don’t you clarify? Tell me: these immigrants who have higher crime rates than Swedes in Sweden–are they capable of learning a different system of values? Do you think that one day they or their descendants could learn to share the same values as Swedes? Or do you think that their origin determines their values?

          • Sean II

            1) It depends, doesn’t it? If for every 100 men admitted from X, you get 5 additional rapes per year and 1 additional murder, where the base rate for every 100 natives is 1 and .10, respectively, that’s really a massive increase. It’s true that most of the newcomers in this scenario aren’t dangerous, but it’s also true that the newcomers, as a group, bring much danger with them.

            Here we have a tough utilitarian calculus to consider. Above a certain threshold, crime has the power to keep everyone living in fear. You have to reckon with that, as much as with its direct effect. The presumption in favor of “help these poor migrants” clashes directly with the idea “women ought not to be afraid leaving the house”. Let no one pretend he has a tidy solution to that. At a minimum though, it seems one should be willing to discuss ideas for screening immigrants by risk.

            But…we can’t do THAT, JG, until we can admit the risk exists.

            2) Maybe, maybe not. It could be that some groups produce more criminals because of culture, environment, etc. It could be those groups will change when they go somewhere else. Of course, it could also be that they will stubbornly refuse to change, deliberately re-creating as much of the old environment and culture as possible. Something like the latter is clearly happening with Islamic migrants in Europe today.

            And it could also be that some groups produce more criminals because of a heritable tendency to do that. Lots of things in the world are heritable, after all. Eye color, height, broad athletic ability, musical talent, IQ, the Big Five, etc. There’s nothing inherently crazy about thinking propensity to crime might be one of those things.

            But there is, Jameson, something a little crazy in the idea of saying: “I don’t know what causes crime [or whatever], but I do know it can’t possibly be genetic, at least not in such a way as to differ significantly across groups, because that would be racist…and what is racist cannot be entertained.”

          • King Goat

            “And it could also be that some groups produce more criminals because of a heritable tendency to do that.”

            Holy. Wow.

          • Sean II

            I hope you didn’t stray far from the fainting couch, Goat.

            Wouldn’t want you to strike your head on the way down. You might lose some of those super-helpful thought terminating cliches people like to use now. You know the ones: “Wow, just wow!”, “Really ?!?”, etc.

            They sure come in handy when one needs to seal off the ol’ mind, for one reason or another.

            And shit…I thought you were in favor of open borders.

          • King Goat

            Even open border proponents are willing to keep some sick and dangerous things out.

          • Sean II

            That was funny, at least.

            Out of curiosity, what’s sick and dangerous? The idea that crime might have a heritable component? Or that idea that such a component, if it exists, isn’t distributed with perfect equality across all human groups?

            Also…I’m not sure you notice how glaring this is, but you and JG both have this rather obvious habit of not addressing the truth or falsehood of things.

            Stuff you don’t like is sick, or dangerous, or racist, etc. but you never get around to saying it’s untrue.

          • King Goat

            Yes, the idea that people’s social actions are heritable has a pretty sick and dangerous pedigree.
            It’s a well recognize pedigree too, so perhaps you’ll understand why people might not want to, for example, re-argue the Lombroso style debates that were roundly refuted over decades and for decades.

            Let’s remember that people like yourself made these arguments for the Irish, the Chinese, etc.You’re acting like you’ve stumbled upon some truth that just isn’t talked about because of some politically correct conspiracy to keep it down, and you’re heroically willing to crash that dogma. But the view you’re taking was the orthodox view, supported by major authorities and institutions, for a long time. It lost out because it proved untenable, and it lost out so thoroughly and definitively that most people don’t waste time debating it, just like the idea that the earth is flat.

          • Sean II

            “Yes, the idea that people’s social actions are heritable has a pretty sick and dangerous pedigree.”

            Okay, this link will get you started on the rewarding road to discovery. It is but one of many…


          • King Goat

            We can match studies about the heritability of this or that all night, which is why I think those you’re arguing with are trying to make a conceptual point.

          • Jameson Graber

            I don’t know when you last looked at any crime statistics, but I hope you will be relieved to know that murder rates aren’t nearly that high anywhere. The rate of increase you describe is also totally implausible.

            As for your “utilitarian calculus,” many an open borders advocate has willingly put forth “key hole solutions” along the lines of screening out immigrants for serious criminals. If our only law against immigration were that you had to send in verification that you had never been convicted of a violent crime, that would be as close to open borders as I could possibly hope for.

            Your response to part 2 is telling. I don’t think you realize how far off base you are. The kind of logic you’re using really is insidious. Even if we could show that somehow morality is tied to genetics, what would we do with that information? Test people’s DNA and lock them up in advance?

            You can call me crazy all you want, but I’m quite convinced you’re dead wrong on this.

          • Sean II

            1) This is tedious, and should not be necessary to say: the numbers I gave were simply for conceptual illustration. I don’t claim them to be accurate anywhere. You know…how people sometimes say “a train leaves Pittsburgh at 100 miles at hour…”? Only an Asperger case would respond by saying “you know nothing about trains, the urban speed restriction around Pittsburgh would make 100 miles an hour impossible…” So, don’t be like that. Pretend I said X and Y, or whatever. It’s the relationship that matters. Not the values.

            For what it’s worth, herring master, the real numbers are something like this. Immigrants in Sweden are less than 20% of the population, and commit a bit under 80% of the forcible rapes.

            2) What’s insidious, exactly? Do you deny that things like, say, the Big Five have been shown to be heritable?

          • King Goat

            1. I think you’re missing his point, which is that even if immigrants in Sweden have a ‘higher than average’ murder rate, that there are very few murders and therefore very few murderers among the Swedish immigrant population. He asked you earlier, would you place restrictions on all of those in that group because a small number (but higher than average comparatively) do these things? That’s a logic that has lead to some pretty horrible policies worldwide in the past.

          • Sean II

            I already answered this, but: a) it doesn’t take that much crime to put a population in fear, b) we should start by discussing screening (hint: that means NOT just shutting the door completely), and c) hell, forget screening or any other policy steps, I’d be happy if people could just discuss the FACTS without wetting their pants.

          • King Goat

            You’re romanticizing what you’re doing: there’s a big difference between someone ‘wetting their pants’ in response to what some crackpot is saying and them rolling their eyes.

          • Sean II

            Okay, then, a challenge: In so far as “crackpot” as used here means “one who believes things that are obviously false, not even debatable, lacking even in first-pass plausibility, etc.”, you’re task is simple.

            Find a few things I’ve said here fitting that bill. Find anything, in fact.

            Caution: we’ve already established that it can’t be the idea of a heritable component to criminal behavior. That is far too much studied by professionals to be a fodder for the cracked pot. You’ll have to find something else.

          • King Goat

            I’d say your idea that policy should be based on these studies is crackpot, and its been explained several times as to why. Are you we really to make policy, law that, in this country, is meant to apply equally at the individual level, based on a study (or heck, even a few studies!) that says that something as vague as a ‘personality type’ is 43% heritable?

          • Sean II

            Yes, 43% heritable, as measured across a sample size of 250 twins.

            So vague. Not at all like the precise concepts you’ve been throwing around: sick, horrifying, wow, etc.

            Out of curiosity, Goat, what’s the highest level biology course you’ve taken?

            I’m not being shitty, it’s just that…the concept of heritability really does seem to be encountering you for the first time.

          • King Goat

            Talk about Asperbergers. You’re like the IT person who is asked about whether an application would be easy for employees to use and answers by going on about the amazing things it can do while ignoring that the question was about how user-friendly it is.

            This question is not a biological one, it’s a philosophical one. The best study you’ve offered is one that can’t even make better than 50% predictions about how people will score on an operationalization of ‘personality type’ (talk about compounding the vagueness problem).

          • Sean II

            “The best study you’ve offered is one that can’t even make better than 50% predictions about how people will score on an operationalization of ‘personality type'”

            That, right there, shows you don’t understand heritability. If you don’t see why…that’s fine, but you should probably stop having such strong opinions about (really, against) it, until you do understand.

            Your other criticism – about whether personality traits can be so measured – that’s a much better one. I have a fair bit of skepticism on that point myself.

          • King Goat

            How do you think these studies are done? They take the test results of twins raised separately and correlate them attempting to control for shared environmental factors, no? And what they found was that less than half of the result on the test can be attributed to heredity. Compared to other possible variables that’s impressive, but it’s a pretty thin reed to treat any individual in the sample differently than another.

          • Sean II

            I’ll give you a hint, right from the abstract: “Shared environmental influences accounted for a negligible proportion of the variance in most scales, whereas nonshared environmental influences accounted for the majority of the environmental variance in all scales.”

          • King Goat

            Oh good grief. Those are findings, I’m talking about how they get there.

            Now I wonder what’s your experience in biology. I’m asking because I’m going to predict it’s not going to be ‘I have a Phd and work in the field regularly.’* You’re no more an expert in these things than anyone else here I suspect, and yet (or maybe because) you take these findings as Gospel.

            * My prediction is based on the assumption that most expert professional biologists are probably not blog commenting this much tonight.

          • Sean II

            You’re right about that. I’m not a pro. But I do know what I’m talking about on the subject of heredity, which puts me one qualification ahead of…anyone else in this room.

          • King Goat

            That’s a big subject, how have you demonstrated in any objective way (outside of you thinking you know what you’re talking about) that you do?

          • Sean II

            I’ve done it the old fashioned way. By saying several true things, and not saying any stupid things, about heritability.

            One can cover a lot of ground in that respect simply by refusing to refuse that it exists.

          • King Goat

            I think where you’re failing is not in whether the studies you site exist and say what they say, but what you think that means. That’s somewhat common in my experience, where someone with a little, cursory knowledge of a field can be impressed with it in an outsized way without understanding what its import is. Maybe that’s not true with you, after all, I’m not an expert on that any more than you are on biology. I’ll leave it at that.

          • Jameson Graber

            1) The *relationships* were also totally unreasonable, as far as I can tell. The reason you chose such a convenient hypothetical is because you breathe out fear mongering. Just like with this 20%/80% comparison. Sure, that’s a distressing statistic, and needs to be taken into account in order to address the immigrant population in Sweden. But how many forcible rapes are there? Is it enough to justify saying no to future immigrants? Is it enough to justify deporting all the immigrants? What does it prove? You never say, you just say how we need to “consider” these things. Which really means, “I want people to feel that the world is falling apart because of immigrants.”

            2) What’s insidious is the idea that genetic inheritance can be used as a justification for policies that don’t follow the rule of law. Normally, criminal justice doesn’t start into action until a crime has been committed. But you want us to somehow play with statistics–again, you don’t say which ones and how much weight we should give them–in order to prevent entire groups of people from immigrating. There’s no justice in that. There’s no rule of law.

          • Guest

            The vagueness in Sean II’s racial comments is all too common in right wing circles. The key components to establish his beliefs or anybody’s beliefs about race are missing. This omission is usually by design– maybe because 99% of the time further investigation does reveal ‘Pioneer Fund’ racialism….Sean II does not address whether he thinks race is a biological or social construct, or some admixture, and to what degree. Whatever he answers should be well described and backed up by whatever genomic/anthro/bio evidence he can muster, not mere social stats (leaving aside that stats are problematic). Then he would need to combine his chosen ‘race group’, as we know to be problematic in itself, with answering questions about whether differentials in behavior and achievements are a product of nature, nurture, or some admixture, and to what degree. With this added stuff he should then be questioned about how he came up with the formula, and why he thinks he has the best take on the problem of correlation and causation. Notice I have not been concerned about how Sean II’s views might inform his actions or advocacy. That is a somewhat separate matter.

          • Sean II

            Hey guest, just a friendly reminder. The challenge I threw down in my first comment was, in part, the idea that we can’t rationally discuss border policy because someone from the open side always trots out the R-word at the first sign of trouble, and as a substitute for actually answering whatever provoked it. Read that last part very carefully.

            Now here you are, trotting out the R-word, arguing that the very lack of overt evidence against me only shows what an insidious foe I truly am.

            My main concern: people may suspect I planted you here, to prove my point that accusations of racism are what passes for debate on this subject.

          • King Goat

            I read Guest as saying that you talk about the effects of race as an independent variable, so to speak, but you haven’t offered any sensible conceptualization or operationalization of it.

          • Sean II

            Interesting. I read him as saying “let me work the Pioneer Fund into this discussion somehow”.

            On which account, I give him top marks!

          • King Goat

            I think the reference to them was along the lines of ‘like Pioneer Fund racialism, Sean’s racialism…’

          • Sean II

            You know, Goat, every time you give these other dudes one of your back-bendingly charitable readings, it draws attention to how much you don’t do that for anything with which you might disagree.

          • King Goat

            Don’t mean to hurt your feelings there Sean, it’s just how I read him. Believe it or not, I think I’ve read you charitably too (well, until you went full Lombroso just now).

          • Sean II

            Okay, so here’s another link for you, no paywall required:


            Very useful info on related sources there.

            Highlight: “There is no question that genetic influences are important to criminal and other forms of antisocial behavior, with twin and adoption studies convincingly showing strong heritability for both law breaking offenses and various forms of aggression.

          • King Goat
          • Sean II

            You should have read that first. Those guys don’t answer the heritability studies. They simply call for an end to such studies.

            In other words, the scholarly equivalent of saying “Wow. Just wow!” in the face of something that makes you uncomfortable.

          • King Goat

            They call for an end after explaining the flaws in the research. It’s obvious you didn’t read it, heck it seems like you skimmed the abstract itself.

          • Sean II

            In the words of my favorite geneticist: “People who try to answer a twin study without another, better twin study are bringing sporks to a gunfight.”

            The funny part is, I can’t even got properly mad at this nonsense. I used to think exactly the same way: genes can’t have anything to do with behavior, because if they did…that would mean…

            Sadly, the universe refused to give a shit what I wanted. It will do the same for you.

          • King Goat

            That’s funny. History shows your view was ascendant. Interestingly it was used at the time quite commonly to…argue for restrictions on immigrants. Those incorrigibles of the Irish race, the Jewish race and the Chinese race, etc. The same scientific gloss, the same utilitarian ‘highmindedness.’ It was discredited both morally (in the policies it led to horrifying the world) and scientifically.

          • Sean II

            Problem: that argument takes the form of “people in the past did science badly, therefore this piece of science in front of me is also bad”.

            It’s a fallacy of relevance. What people said about the Irish in 1890 doesn’t tell us anything about the truth or falsehood of any statement we might make about, take your pick, the Finns today. Each of these claims must be assessed on its merits.

            Some stereotypes turned out to be nonsense. The idea that Polacks are stupid never had any basis in fact. That idea that Native Americans suffer from low tolerance to alcohol turned out to be quite true and very medically significant.

            You can’t dispose of something just by saying “this reminds of something different that turned out to be false”. Doesn’t work like that.

          • King Goat

            It tells us something about actually. It tells us how fallible even very ‘scientific’ things often turn out to be, especially when it deals with human behavior. We have a long history of social scientists aping the natural sciences pronouncing they know the cause of this or that behavior, and we have a long history of them being 1. wrong and 2. worse, having been the source or justification for some morally horrible policies. I think this would teach any prudent man to say “hey, I’m most certainly not going advocate a policy that would have a high likelihood to harm those targeted based on a few studies about something so complex and nebulous like ‘personality type’ or ‘criminality.'”

            And this doesn’t even take into account that taking them at face value your studies have serious holes in them as the basis for any actual policy considerations that you’ve pretty obstinately refused to address.

          • Sean II

            You’re missing the fact that there are two possibilities:

            a) The data is mistaken, and policy based on it results in avoidable harm.

            b) The data is correct, and policy not based on it results in avoidable harm.

            In other words, you can’t wave away the data by saying “any wrong arising from the misapplication of this” must be avoided. You’re also bound to avoid any harms based on the ignorance of it.

          • King Goat

            Here you’re talking about the harm of denying hundreds of thousands of people a chance to escape violent death or crushing poverty balanced with the harm of how many rapes or murders that will somewhat disproportionately committed by a minority of people in that group? Heck, you know the balance is not good for you, which is why you also throw in ‘it doesn’t take many of the bad things on my side to make everyone scareds and stuff!’

          • Sean II

            I see the mistake you’re making here: I gave a crime increase as ONE among many possible negative outcomes. Mostly I used that one because it’s easy to describe and we have lots of data.

            But there are many other things to consider beyond that. The scale does not weigh “immigrant lives” on one side of the balance and “immigrant crime only” on the other.

            It weighs “benefits of immigration” vs “detriments of immigration”.

            The former includes much more than we have (or could possibly) discuss here. So does the latter. It’s complicated.

          • King Goat

            Given what these refugees are running from I can’t imagine that scale being even close. In the end you’re arguing ‘some studies show that some potential immigrant groups will have a higher than average tendency to do X, Y and Z bad things in their host society’ is going to outweigh ‘the likelihood of nearly all of the refugees turned away experiencing awful things like X, Y, Z but also A through W is much higher.’

          • Sean II

            Well, if one of the bad things in X, Y, and Z happens to be “make liberal secular rationalism a thing of the past”, I’d say that weighs pretty heavy.

            Not least of all because when the lifeboat sinks, those immigrants get sunk along with everyone else.

            BTW – no offense if I don’t respond from here on out. These things have to end somehow.

          • King Goat

            That, despite very similar predictions of doom (accompanied with very similar scientific pronouncements), this was not the result with mass immigration from the dreaded Irish or Chinese or what have you certainly doesn’t mean that today’s situation might not have a different result. But it makes me prudentially quite skeptical.

            Have a good night.

          • Guest

            Making the question seem as if it is over whether something is heritable or not is again missing the point on purpose. Anything can be put into heritable context. So what. Heritability is useful for in-group studies, not comparing groups given the change in variables and circumstances. Even Murray and Herrnstein begrudgingly recognized this– it did not stop the racist insinuations however. Further, heritability doesn’t prove whether something genetic is immutable or malleable. Something that is highly heritable like height can be changed with nutrition intervention? Why not intelligence (assuming it means something solid)? Sean II has merely doubled-down on his nonsense. Predictably.

          • niav

            I think we’re balancing our right to keep our way of life as it is, vs the right to come and settle in our countries of these people running away from something their 3rd world, medieval, violent and intolerant culture has produced.

            Personally I love European culture. I live in Switzerland and I particularly love the Swiss culture and way of life.

            Here where I live there’s essentially zero crime (I was told there was a theft 11 years ago) and zero anti-social behaviour. I don’t think either aspect will last if we’d get to settle in our Dorf a few hundred essentially barbarians, people who are uneducated, unqualified, uncivilised, who believe a book stating in various forms that we should be at best tolerated, and normally enslaved or killed.

            I don’t want to see Sharia law and no-go neighbourhoods. I loath seeing women wearing burqas, I regard it the closest thing to having a human being kept like a dog.

            I am not optimistic at all about Muslims integrating, socially and economically, into our societies. There’s no reason to be. A very recent study in the UK revealed that a majority of them don’t work: half the men and 3/4 of the women. They are very adept at forming ghettos.

            And how are they going to integrate economically? Some will open shops and restaurants. That’s about it, to any noticeable extent. If they could do anything economically significant, it would had showed in their countries of origin. In short, most will parasite our welfare state, increase our taxes, and resent us for it.

            I don’t like anything about their culture. It’s very efficient at producing hell-holes, for sure. Not at doing anything else. Their more prosperous societies are mostly characterised by the bizarre excesses of the rich. They have to the best of my knowledge not one university in the world’s top 500. No scientific research to speak of. No innovation. No meaningful cultural exports.

            And it’s not the few extremists that exclusively worry me. Yes, those are very dangerous, and these minorities in European countries are very good at producing young, disenfranchised young men eager to inflict atrocities on their host societies.

            What worries me are the moderates. The ones who overwhelmingly believe that anything they disagree with should be banned. The ones who always have a “but” when expressing an opinion about the Charlie Hebdo murders (which btw I haven’t seen one Muslim calling as such).

            European culture will definitely be lost, and fall for the worse, if this great migration continues. 1-2 million a year, every year from now on, is easy for them to do. Pakistan and Bangladesh alone have enough people between them to nearly double the EU population.

          • matt

            I’m sympathetic to this. But is it an argument for, say, the US not having open borders with Canada and Mexico? No. Islamism is pernicious in the extreme but it shouldn’t be taken as a reason for a generally as opposed to specifically restrictionist policy.

          • niav

            Well it’s surely an argument against “open borders” per se.

            To me, open borders means just that: that you let people in, irrespective of their backgrounds, qualifications, means of sustaining themselves, country of origin etc.

            Putting in the Caplan correction of filtering out known criminals or people known to do us harm (a handful), and it’s pretty much open your door to any stranger who wants to come and settle. No visas, no permits, nothing.

            This type of policy, as specified, says nothing about US/Mexico/etc. It’s presented as a just, all-around good policy.

            Which it is clearly not. Filling Sweden (pop: ~9 mil) with young, uneducated Afghani and Pakistani males (pop: ~200 mil) will not produce a culturally enriched Sweden. It will very, very likely produce a Nordic European hell-hole, complete with Talibans and its own war.

            If you write a computer program function that adds two numbers and it works when adding 2 and 3 but doesn’t work when adding 9,831,014 and 45,002,541 then you don’t have a fully working function.

            That’s exactly why this open border policy is a childish, poorly thought out idea. It just doesn’t work for large numbers. Perhaps it works for low numbers, compatible cultures etc. Won’t work for the current Middle East + Afghanistan -> Europe migrant wave.

            They don’t integrate. They haven’t integrated anywhere. They don’t come to Europe to leave their own culture behind. They want to keep it, but get free stuff and, ideally, replace ours.

            If you just look at the disaster they leave behind in the train stations, you’ll see.

          • matt

            Okay I see what you’re saying. How about this: let’s vastly liberalize immigration with countries who, more or less, share the same liberal cultural norms. Then we can discuss whether we want to let every Mohammed, Abdual, and Osama come to Sweden.

          • Rob Gressis

            I think Sean II’s argument is pretty straightforward. It goes like this:

            1. If we allow open borders, a lot of immigrants will come in.
            2. Many of those immigrants may be inclined (either genetically or culturally) to different ways of behaving from ways that are the norm in the dominant culture.
            3. If 2 is true, then it’s likely that the norms in the dominant culture will start to change.
            4. If the norms in the dominant culture start to change, people who like the dominant culture may get very agitated.
            5. If people who like the dominant culture get very agitated, this may cause a lot of strife.
            6. This strife is likely to be so bad that it is actually worse for the world then closing borders is bad for the world.
            7. Therefore, we should not allow open borders.

            1 seems to me to be pretty obviously true.

            2 seems to me to be true as well. Personally, I don’t know enough about genetics or culture to know what the best explanation is for why people have different norms, so if you want, we can leave the explanation part out. But it still seems to me to be overwhelmingly plausible that people all over the world follow different norms, and very plausible as well that, just because they’re in a different place, they do not automatically follow the norms of that new place. Many (most?) will eventually, but that might take a long time, and the norms of the dominant culture may change as a result. So, I think 3 is pretty plausible too.

            As for 4, again, it seems really plausible: just look at how people in Europe are reacting to the migrants coming in. Many of them really seem not to like it! It’s quite possible that their not liking it is deeply immoral, even evil, but even if that’s true, the point is that it’s still happening. You can condemn them all you want, but certain policies have certain predictable effects. Having open borders would, I think, very much strengthen far right, anti-immigrant parties. Such parties may indeed be deeply immoral, but that isn’t relevant to the analysis; what Sean II is talking about is: what is likely to happen? And he thinks that strengthening such movements is likely to happen. And I think he’s right. So, I think 4 is right.

            As for 5, again, I think this is right, too. There seems to be a lot of strife as a result of the high numbers of refugees coming in. And it’s not good that there’s strife. It would be a lot better if everyone was exceptionally happy with the new situation. But they’re not.

            The real crux of the issue is 6. How bad will the strife be? If lots of Europeans become hostile to their new residents, will the new residents react in kind? If they do, will this make the Europeans even more hostile? If so, will the new residents react in kind again? And, even if all this happens, compare it to the alternative: Syrians not being allowed to go to Europe to flee. What would happen? Would they go to Qatar? The UAE? Or would they have to stay behind and get slaughtered?

            It seems to me that, in the case of the Syrian crisis, I’m pretty darn sure that the costs of allowing the Syrians in are outweighed by the benefits. I could be wrong. But I’m not nearly as sure in ALL cases of immigration, especially in the cases of people seeking just to improve their economic prospects.

            Finally, I think a lot of people are offended at 2. But I don’t actually think 2 is that important. Let’s say that it’s completely false. That is, let’s say that every immigrant would be very happy assimilating, or that they will change the dominant norms only for the better, and only in which that members of the dominant culture like, or whatever. Even if all that’s true, A LOT OF EUROPEANS THINK IT’S FALSE. And maybe they’re just evil people, and it’s as obvious as the sun that 2 is false. But the point is, because they think that 2 is true, they will react negatively to the migrants. And again, this could cause strife.

          • tfowler

            I’m not sure its an ethnic determinism issue for Sean. I guess he can answer if it is, but such an idea isn’t necessary to think that immigrants can damage the cultural and/or political situation in a country. The argument doesn’t have to be that because they are in ethnic group X, there culture is going to be bad, but rather that because they where born in a culture Y and political situation Z, they are more likely to share problematic ideas that are predominate in Y and/or Z Nothing to do with their genes.

            I think there is something to that idea, but I think its exaggerated by many people who are anti-immigration, at least for more real world or likely cases of immigration. Suddenly dumping 100 million new people in the US or the EU, likely would cause problems along these lines (and even more certainly stress the in place economic and physical infrastructure), and if open borders meant that happening I’d be against it on consequentialist reasons. (Depending on how desperate the 100 million where, and how bad of disruption I thought they would be, and how long the negative effects would last.)

            But I am weakly against restricting the liberty of people to immigrate (even if they are not desperate and more so if they are) because I’m generally opposed to restrictions on liberty of any sort. Also I’m somewhat sympathetic to the idea that a culture that is closed off is directly less positive and that over time reducing the mix of cultural ideas is not good.

            Since I have conflicting and uncertain thoughts about immigration, I don’t take any strong position on it. I don’t think borders (at least large ones) should (or likely can be) completely closed, but I’m not sure I can get behind totally open immigraiton either (esp. not as a near absolute right that should be maintained under just about any circumstances)

          • tfowler

            I seem to have two Disqus profiles associated with the same e-mail address. I meant to reply with this one but even when I log out and log back in, my post here are associated with


          • Jameson Graber

            OK, well, when exactly would you restrict the right to immigrate, and based on which principles? I think I was basically like you until I started reading Bryan Caplan’s arguments (which led to others). I realized that there’s no principled way to draw the line other than to give extreme examples (e.g. we won’t let in suspected members of terrorist organizations).

            I agree with you about the “dumping” prospect, but here I go back to the beginning with my first comment: I just don’t see why that should happen. Open borders only means open national borders. It doesn’t mean the end of all borders–on the contrary, it means *privatized* borders. So “dumping” can only occur if there really are 100 million places for people to come all at once and find a place to live and work. I doubt that’s true. On the other hand, if there really is enough demand in the labor market for so many people, then we desperately need to liberalize immigration, don’t we!

            I suspect open borders would mean very fast growth for the United States, at least for several decades. But I don’t think that’s so scary. We’ve already experience very fast growth before, and it turned out to be a great thing (a defining period of our history, really). Sure, it had plenty of down sides, but all human life has real hardships. I just want a real argument why those hardships are so deep and long lasting that they justify forcing people not to enter our country.

            Of course, in practice, I’d take anything I could get from the public. Just liberalize immigration a little bit. And then a little bit more. And then a little bit more…

          • tfowler

            I don’t see any good deontological principle supporting retrictions on
            immigration, to the extent I support any its all consequential.

            I’ve read Bryan Caplan’s posts on this. I just don’t fully agree.

            A fast dump of 100 million was the extreme hypothetical to detail the point. I agreed in that same comment that it wasn’t actually going to happen.

            I think generally the US has been pretty good at assimilating immigrants. Its not total assimilation, the cultural diffusion goes both ways, the US, or even the previous citizens and esp. their decedents change as well. But that’s good as long as import parts of American culture and tradition are observed. Total assimilation would be more sterile and boring, as well as not being a very practical idea anyway. Also the US is a high population country, so immigrants, even if they move in at a rapid rate, are likely only to be a modest fraction of the population.

            Because of the US has been pretty good at such assimilation (and because of my general libertarian leanings) I think a lot of legal immigration should be allowed. I might not even oppose open borders (in the way you are using the term, which would allow for not allowing criminals and terrorists and such in). But I’m not so sure about supporting it as a basic human right. And while I don’t think its likely in the US today (or in many other countries and situaitons), I do think very fast immigration, can cause problems beyond just the immediate problems of infrastructure and economic issues.

            Some examples of were immigration caused problems for the people or country that allowed it or couldn’t stop it.

            – European immigration to the new world. True that was largely issues of conquest and enslavement in the areas taken over by Spain, and disease all around, not some negative culture. But it still had a negative effect.

            – American immigration in to Texas. Which resulted in the later revolution, an independent Texas, and then its annexation to the US. All of which might be considered bad for Mexico. Although it could quite reasonably be argued that the decedents of the Mexicans who remained are better off as Americans today so this is more “bad for the country” then “bad for the people” in the long run, and I care much more about the later, but the violence of the revolution wasn’t exactly good for the people in the short run.

            – Israel – It could not reasonably allow open immigration. Doing so would lead to a great increase in violent chaos, and probably the destruction of Israel as a state (along with many of its people)

            Maybe Taiwan – If you consider the possibility of PRC sponsored mass immigration to try to get Taiwan to vote for reunification. OTOH they don’t have a land boundary, and it might take 10 million Chinese moving. This isn’t the same level of risk as in Israel.

          • Jameson Graber

            I suppose a lot depends on what you mean by “basic human right.” Even things everyone agrees are “basic human rights” can be violated under special circumstances. I no longer have an obligation to protect your right to life if you are threatening mine, for example. I think immigration is like that. Sure, obviously there are special circumstances under which we would not let someone immigrate, but that’s no different from any other right. The problem is nowadays it’s a special *privilege* to get to immigrate. So immigration is far from being a right that is respected in any general sense. I don’t think that’s just.

            Israel is the go-to counterexample for open borders. I confess, I’m not exactly sure why. I’m not an expert on Israel, but it’s not clear to me why, theoretically, *immigration* would destroy the Israeli state. If someone wanted to destroy the Israeli state, wouldn’t they just *invade* it? That has been tried before; it didn’t work. Is immigration supposed to be some sort of covert invasion? What is it about people immigrating, possibly becoming Israeli citizens, which would cause the Israeli state to collapse? Perhaps a democratic state of Israel with open immigration policies would soon cease to be *Jewish.* But maybe that’s just an argument against a state having a religious identity, or against democracy, or both. Again, maybe there is some fact about Israel that I don’t understand which would make me see why immigration would destroy it, but I haven’t yet seen that explained. Israel, I’ll add, seems to me small enough that it would literally run out of room pretty quickly, so I don’t think open borders would actually add that many Israelis. People would pretty soon stop coming, because there would be more opportunities elsewhere.

            I’m not sure what to make of all of your other examples. They’re interesting, but also they took place in completely different settings. Today we’re talking about big nation states. Back then things were not so established. So I don’t even know if “immigration” is the right word for what happened. In any case, I just don’t know how to respond to those examples.

          • tfowler

            When there is an invasion, you can hit it with airstrikes, etc. You can’t reasonably do that with immigration, and definitionally you can’t do that at all with open border immigration.

            Its Jewish identity is part of what Israel is. Even ignoring the religious part (Jews in Israel range from ultra-orthodox to secular) its part of its national idenity. Its a nation state, not just a state. That’s true of many other countries as well Germany is German etc.

            Israel is a small country both in size and in population, surrounded by hostile countries, or fairly indifferent countries with hostile population, and directly the serious enemy of many close in locals (most Palestinians, Hezbollah and its supporters etc.) Many of its enemies are fanatic Islamacists, those who aren’t still have very different cultural and political views, and not typically the sort of differences that could easily be worked out in the political system. The agenda (and not just the agenda of recognizable members of terrorist groups who you presumably would exclude) include things like imposing Sharia, or in some cases just wiping out all the Jews. Sure it wouldn’t be all the immigrants, or even all the Middle Eastern immigrants, but it would be some tiny percent either. When Israel did give the Palestinian’s land (withdrawing from Gaza) it was used as a base to attack Israel. That’s been used as an argument against more “land for peace”, its a stronger argument against allowing the same people in and out of your country at will. Open borders might work in peaceful situations. But Israel, even with closed borders and military superiority doesn’t have a peaceful situation.

            Open borders would mean allowing terrorist in for Israel. Yes I know your definition of open borders would allow them to be excluded but that would only be recognized terrorists. When your in a sea of terrorist supporters and you have open borders new terrorist who you don’t recognize would cross the borders all the time. They don’t need to immigrate permanently for this to be a problem. I assume open borders would also be open for business and tourism. (And even if they aren’t they can say they are immigrating permanently whether or not they really plan to do so.)

            For those who do immigrate permanently, you either don’t give them the vote, leaving them perpetual 2nd class citizens, or you do give them the vote, in which case if numerous enough they could undermine the country from within through the vote (either way they could use violence).

            As for literally running out of room. Israel is about as dense as Belgium. Gaza is over a dozen times denser in population then Israel. Even ignoring political entities that are just cities (like Macau which is over 50 times as dense times the density of Israel) there are something like 20 countries that are denser then Israel. Add in the city states and sub national entities and Israel is number 34 on this list

            There is plenty of physical room for more people. What might be lacking (in terms of trying to cover a large percentage increase in population) would be infrastructure. But to the extent that immigrants start swamping the infrastructure your just increasing the problem, even if they are peaceful you can’t deal with them.

            A lot of Mexicans have come to the US in the 20th and 21st centuries. But there isn’t some vast hatred of the US among Mexicans, and the cultures while different are more compatible. Also the US has over two and a half times the population of Mexico. It can’t literally be swamped by Mexicans, and even if it was there would be no reason to think they would start a campaign of terror against the US.

          • Jameson Graber

            All of that is worth serious consideration. I certainly wouldn’t ask Israel to be the testing ground for an open borders experiment. (I would ask of that of the US, for what I think are obvious reasons. Apparently Americans in general don’t think so.)

            On the other hand, you didn’t consider the fundamental question of whether national identity defined in a more or less “ethnic” sense–Jewish, German, whatever–is actually something we want to build states around. In fact, I’m inclined to believe the opposite is true. Israel is an extremely special case, but in general I wish we could start to break down the idea that nations and states are the same thing.

          • tfowler

            That’s a lot bigger change then open borders would be.

            Its connected to open borders in that it would facilitate, and be facilitated by open borders.

          • Jameson Graber

            Oh, I’m not so sure. Clearly you’re right to say there is a connection, but I wonder if an end to traditional ethnic identity is really farther off than open borders. It seems to me people are even more afraid of open borders than they are of losing their national identity. I think the USA is proof of that. Americans are completely delusional if they think they have a “national identity” in any traditional sense. American nationalism, while not utterly unique, is fairly atypical, and does not rely on cohesive ethnic unity. That’s why American nativism makes me all the more depressed about human nature. Apparently even a nation of foreigners has a hard time accepting new foreigners.

            Even when you consider the European landscape these days, the cat is already out of the bag, so to speak. People are forging new multiethnic identities. When I was living in France, some of the commentary I heard was interesting and amusing–if you really know your history, you know that there’s no such thing as “pure French”! True, we’re seeing a reemergence of nationalism right now, but I wonder if that isn’t just the inevitable reaction to poor economic conditions. Then again, maybe hostility to open borders can be explained the same way.

          • tfowler

            Certainly in a genetic sense most large open countries are very mixed. But there is something of a common cultural and political heritage. Its blended and changing to be sure but I don’t think it is, or is soon to become, meaningless.

          • Jameson Graber

            OK, you’re probably right about this. But compared to even a century ago, the degree of mixing is astonishing. Who knows what another century will bring?

          • tfowler

            What’s your take on two arguments that are often used by libertarians who are not supports of open borders.

            1 – Immigrants to the US and to some other freer then average countries, are marginally less likely to be libertarian, and more likely to support statist intervention (perhaps because they are used to it at home, perhaps because on the average they would be poorer than typical Americans and poor people are more likely to support the welfare state).

            2 – If you have open borders and a welfare state, you encourage people to come here for a handout.

            I believe there is something to both of them. 1 – Is partially countered by the fact that the immigrants are the people leaving the poorer more statist societies, maybe they don’t like statism, but I think at the margin, at least in the US, they are actually more likely to vote for big government. 2 – Is partially countered by the fact that its possible that immigrants receiving welfare will reduce the likelihood that the welfare state receives political support from non-immigrants. (Although its possible the greater inequality* that results will marginally increase support for the welfare state.)

            * – I’m not generally very concerned about inequality. It barely registers as a direct concern for me; esp. an increase like this where the people who were already here are not more unequal that before, and the sum of the people who move in and the people before are also not more unequal. (Before immigration they were poorer, and so further away from the American norm, or the American rich.) But the fact the group of people within the US before and after immigration (including the immigrants after they move in, but not before) will very likely be more unequal may have a negative political effect.

          • Jameson Graber

            I honestly don’t take 1 that seriously. What’s the likelihood that anyone anywhere is a libertarian? It doesn’t seem to me to be very high. And anyway, I think if you asked people trying to get into the US whether they would still come here if they didn’t have the right to vote, of course they would say yes. The reason I know this is that millions of them come here with even fewer rights than that.

            And something similar is true for 2. Immigrants are already inelibible for welfare benefits until they have been here legally for a certain amount of time. I’m sure that rule wouldn’t change with open borders (nor do I think it should). As for other expenses associated with the “welfare state,” Alex Tabarrok has a pretty good post on this at Marginal Revolution. I suppose a serious concern would be children’s welfare benefits. If immigrants came in large numbers and had children they couldn’t afford, we could have a crisis on our hands. So I’ll admit, there’s something to look at, there. But I think there are much better “keyhole solutions” to that problem than to bar large numbers of people from immigrating.

          • Sean II

            You are correct in thinking that ethnic determinism is not a necessary part of any argument I’ve made here. Mostly the issue came up because, well, it’s much easier to puff against that than address any of the arguments I actually made.

            I came into this thread to make two very simple points:

            The first is that open border advocates invariably take at least one of four flawed positions, which I listed in my first comment as A), B), C), and D).

            The second is that most open border advocates are NOT sincere when they claim a willingness to weigh the evidence, since they typically refuse even to DISCUSS the evidence. A common tactic is to forestall debate by refusing to concede the truth of the most obviously true statements. Like, say…these two:

            “The political form we call democracy has mostly proven unable to endure among the people we call Arabs.”

            “In places where Islam is taken seriously, liberalism is not.”

            These statements are true, and yet strange things happen when you say them. People immediately get upset, and although they cannot completely explain these facts, they insist on expressing total confidence that the facts are malleable…just as malleable, indeed, as their preferred outcome requires them to be.

            You get that? They can’t say WHY the Arab world seems allergic to democracy, but somehow they KNOW that this will change shortly after any given Arab (or group thereof) lands on the other side of the Med.

            Likewise for Islam and liberalism. They cannot say WHY this one religion is so much more stubborn than the rest, in refusing to dilute itself with the protective hypocrisy that has over time rendered Judaism and Christianity all but harmless to open societies. But somehow they KNOW there is nothing to fear from the proliferation of Islam in a Europe that, let’s face it, just barely squeaked its way into liberalism, after many close calls with the abyss.

            You see what I’m saying? The question of what explains those two facts above is secondary. There is certainly an interesting discussion to be had about the relative shares of nature and nurture. But we can’t get anywhere near that discussion, until the facts themselves become speakable.

            THAT is my point.

      • n0truscotsman

        Your list of ‘open border positions’ is the best summation I have ever seen posted anywhere, and I have been following the libertarian knife fight on this subject for nearly a decade.

        Back when I supported open borders, I seem to recall using one of those arguments multiple times 😉

  • bristoleastman

    Thanks for this and for the link to your paper. Good stuff.

  • Mortado

    No argument in favor of closed borders? How about the survival of Western culture and of the political values necessary for libertariansism to have any chance of ever being implemented? What left-libertarians fail to realize is that libertarianism requires Western culture. It requires a society made up mostly of whites. The fact that there has been almost no major libertarian/classical liberal movement in any non-White country proves this. People in the real world aren’t blank slates like the people in your abstract arguments. Culture and ethnic background do play a significant role in ones worldview. Open-border advocates are mostly borderline nihilists who hate culture, tradition, and organic communities because they’re “oppressive”.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      It really has nothing to do with being white or non white, although your main point is true. It all has to do with culture. Some cultures are much much better than others, better in almost every way. And some cultures are not bad ones but they are not conducive to ideas of personal liberty. The Russians are as white as can be but I do not think their culture is one which has ever valued personal liberty. They have always been ruled by despots and seem to prefer it.

  • Theresa Klein

    I am unconcerned about immigration changing the culture, but I don’t think that the economic impact is meritless.
    A significant increase in immigration creates crowding, increases rents and decreases wages, all of which reduce living standards for native residents. They aren’t stupid to feel threatened by an influx of low-skilled immigrants. Maybe not correct to feel they have a right to keep out foreign labor, but not stupid to want to do so.
    Perhaps in the long run the population increase means more economic development, but maybe not, if we’re all going to be replaced by robots and end up on Basic Income Guarentees. Personally, I’d rather living in the future where everyone gets at least a quarter acre lot than the one where we’re all crammed into tiny tenements. Physical space is something that is in finite supply.

    Does that mean I have a right to keep out immigrants? Probably not. Does that mean I have to like the effects of immigration? Not really.

    • Les Kyle Nearhood

      I think it is amazing that some of the exact same people who claim that immigration will not depress low skill wages will also be against the minimum wage because it violates market forces. Either wages react to supply and demand or they do not.

      • Theresa Klein

        I agree. Of course low-skilled immigration depresses low-skilled wages. It’s foolish to pretend otherwise. You just can’t necessarily jump from there to claiming that low-skilled native workers have a right to stop foreigners from competing with them for the same jobs. That would open a whole other can of worms. If they can restrict foreign labor, why not other groups of domestic laborers?

    • Jameson Graber

      That’s fair. I do think it’s worth clarifying that most open borders proponents realize that at least some wage decreases would probably happen to at least some sectors of the labor market, but this would be temporary. In politics generally, I think short term pain always gets weighted far too heavily against long term gain.

      Also, I personally am more afraid of the robots than of immigrants. If the technologists are right, computers will make us *all* obsolete. It’s only a matter of time. If that day comes, I have a feeling none of our economic theory amounts to much. But they could be completely wrong. Who knows?

      • Les Kyle Nearhood

        What widespread robotics will do is to put a premium on those things which cannot be done by a machine. So real estate, original works of art, and humans themselves will become more valuable while the value of most goods and services will drop.

        • Jameson Graber

          And what if machines can make works of art? What if machines have better social skills than humans do? I know this sounds like science fiction, but there are some people (experts in AI, that is) who seriously think this will happen. At that point, I guess all that matters is which political philosophy the machines choose.

        • Theresa Klein

          To the extent that humans are only useful for producing things that robots can produce better, the value of human beings will decline. There are lots of people out there who produce very little that a robot can’t produce.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            Humans have intrinsic value to other humans. as companions, as followers, as voters, as fans, as consumers, as lovers, as offspring, and surrogate offspring.

  • Bob

    Moving in the right direction here.
    The UK has “open borders” with the EU and these have been the effects:
    The nasty libertarian trick is to mix “high quality” and “low quality” immigrants because they want to push their one world ideal. That’s why they like to use averages.

    You unfortunately cannot seem to get their heads around the idea that having sovereign power over a single nation allows you to lift everybody in that nation out of poverty – by implementing policies that are highly cohesive within the country and lightly coupled with the rest of the world.

    The view that unless you pull all the world out in one go, then you can’t pull anybody out is surely a classic example of the perfect being the enemy of the good.

    The smaller the political entity the easier it is to get the necessary changes through. Within the UK we could ensure everybody has a job at a living wage easily, decent housing for all, decent
    pensions and a highly competitive business sector, supported by state funded R&D research, to replace the current oligopolies.

    You then limit *open* immigration to countries with full employment and universal healthcare etc.

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  • Yo Bas, refugee crises are not edge cases when considering immigration policies circa 2015. They are recurrent features of the environment, and will have to be accounted for by philosophers wanting to approach the issue credibly.

    The core problem here is that the analytic philosophy method is invalid. Mike Huemer is my boy, but his thought experiment method is invalid. It’s a popular method in philosophy, which is unfortunate. Reality is real, and if open borders would create a chunky risk of fast destruction of US culture, then the thought experiments won’t matter. (By US culture, I mean consensually valued substantive, intellectual elements of US culture, not anti-outdoor-fiesta white cultural norms.)

    I’m broadly pro-immigration, and I think we should welcome a lot more immigrants, but the open borders argument is one of the weaker arguments bouncing around out there.

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