Rights Theory, Liberty

Happy Open Borders Day: How to Argue for Immigration Restrictions

In honor of Open Borders Day, here is an excerpt from the current draft of Global Justice as Global Freedom, which Bas and I are writing for Oxford University Press. This excerpt comes from the end of chapter 5. In chapter 5, we make the preliminary case for open borders. In chapters 6 and 7, we respond to and debunk a series of economic and philosophical arguments against open borders.

At first glance, immigration restrictions look like rights violations. When we impose immigration restrictions, we do not simply fail to help would-be immigrants, but rather use violence and threats of violence to prevent them from making life-saving or life-changing trades with willing trading partners. We also harm our own citizens, who would benefit from interacting with those immigrants. We impose ourselves and cut off relationships that otherwise would have formed. We use violence and threats of violence to interfere with people who, if left alone, would work or live or trade together.

If a country placed internal immigration restrictions on its own citizens, almost everyone agrees that this would be a huge violation of their human rights. But, for some reason, they treat immigration restrictions between countries differently. Perhaps, in the final analysis, they will be right to do so, but they bear the burden of proving that there is a real difference, a difference sufficient to explain why it’s impermissible to violently interfere with voluntary interactions between co-nationals, but permissible to violently interfere with or ban voluntary interactions between people from different nations. In the next two chapters, we’ll examine a range of arguments that attempt to defend such conclusions, but, as we’ll see, in the end these arguments all fail.

The best estimates of the effects of open borders find that they could double world product, or, under more pessimistic assumptions, at least add something like an additional China + Europe + United State’s worth of production (and associated increases in living standards) to the world each year. The economic upsides of open borders are staggering. People who oppose open borders on economic grounds thus need to find some economic downsides that outweigh the benefits. In the next chapter, we’ll examine a range of arguments that attempt to show that open borders would have bad economic consequences, and that these bad consequences suffice to show we should restrict immigration. In response, we’ll show that these arguments get the facts wrong. We’ll also argue that even they had the facts right, they would also fail to justify immigration restrictions (or, at least, most restrictions).

Before we move on to examine the various objections to open borders, we want to provide a sort of checklist outlining what it would take to defend immigration restrictions. As we see it, most arguments for closed borders (or against open borders) take the following form:

  1. Open borders would cause some Bad Thing B or are incompatible with Good Thing G.
  2. Therefore, let’s keep borders closed.

The arguments are often quick and dirty like that. But making a successful argument of this form is trickier than people realize.

First, we need real evidence that open borders do indeed produce the Bad Thing B or come at the expense of some Good Thing G. As we’ll see especially in the next chapter, often such arguments are just mistaken about the facts. For instance, many people believe open borders would depress domestic wages, but the evidence seems to show that for most domestic workers, they would do the opposite. Or, other times critics simply speculate that open borders would have some negative effect, but do not provide any evidence that they would.

Second, we need a good philosophical argument that in order to avoid B or get G, it’s worth closing borders. For instance, suppose it turned out that open borders would undermine France’s distinctive culture. We would then need a good argument showing us that that is sufficient reason to close borders. Neither of us are Francophiles, but we suspect that even if we were, we wouldn’t see maintaining France’s culture as a reason to forbid French people from making willing exchanges with immigrants, especially when such exchanges produce serious economic growth and seriously reduce world poverty. States do not have the right to promote just any old consequence at this kind of price. They have a limited scope of what they may legitimately do. So, when an immigration restrictionist claims that open borders would lead to some result he finds undesirable, he needs to supply us with an argument about why the state should be concerned with that result and why it would be sufficient to justify the very serious imposition of closing borders.

Third, as an elaboration of the last point, the restrictionist who favors closed borders must provide argument for generally closed borders, rather than an argument for specific, targeted restrictions. Consider: Suppose we are worried that immigrants from West Africa might carry Ebola, or immigrants from Afghanistan might be terrorists. At best, these worries call for targeted restrictions or additional screening for people from those countries. They do not call for maintaining the status quo of mostly closed borders. It would call for opening borders to everyone from China, India, Europe, South America, and elsewhere.

Fourth, as another elaboration of the second point, we need to know why avoiding Bad Thing B or getting Good Thing G doesn’t also call – by consistency of reasoning – for internal migration restrictions. After all, many of the arguments restrictionists offer, such as the claim that immigrants might depress wages, sully culture, cause crime, that democracies “own” their institutions, or possess a right to self-determination, and so on, seem equally good as arguments for forbidding internal migration. For instance, if “they might cause crime” is a reason for the US to forbid Mexican immigration, why is it not also a reason for low crime New Hampshire to forbid black immigration, or immigration from high-crime Southern whites? As far as we know, none of our intellectual opponents support internal migration restrictions. So, we need a plausible argument why these reasons for closing the borders of the nation-state do not also count as sufficient reasons to close some internal borders, such as those between provinces, counties, or cities.

Fifth, continuing on from the fourth point, we need to know why avoiding B or getting G doesn’t also suffice to impose other illiberal or anti-democratic restrictions. Consider all the reasons people give for restricting borders: to protect current workers’ wages, to prevent crime from rising, to reduce strain on infrastructure, to avoid overburdening the welfare state, to protect culture, to ensure that we have a democratic and pro-liberal culture that respects the rule of law. Or consider philosophers’ arguments, such as that societies have a right of self-determination, or a right of self-creation, or a right to maintain to determine who is a member of their community. As we’ll see over the next few chapters, most of these arguments on behalf of immigration restrictions seem to work equally well or better as arguments for eugenics, forced birth control, censorship, religious control, voting restrictions, internal migration restrictions, and other illiberal or anti-democratic laws. Thus, someone offering such arguments will need to carefully explain why these arguments only call for external immigration restrictions and nothing more. Or, if they are willing to bite the bullet and endorse eugenics, censorship, and the like, they better have a good enough argument to compel readers to bite the bullet with them.

As we’ll see over the next two chapters, the objections to open borders don’t make it successfully through our checklist. Often their arguments fail on their own terms, but even if we grant them their premises, they lead to conclusions the objectors would not want to endorse. It is important to keep in mind here the general nature of most of these arguments. Authors who open borders generally do not call for the occasional, targeted restriction – a position that might be defensible in some cases. They defend a standing right for states to close their borders, more or less at will. This coheres with the traditional conception of sovereignty, an idea by which the state (or the people), as an independent entity, gets to decide how to run its internal affairs. And this right allegedly includes the right to decide whether or not to admit any newcomers. Arguments like this, we will show, are not merely arguments against immigration. They are really arguments against liberalism and freedom in general.

Published on:
Author: Jason Brennan
  • What about arguments of the following form?

    1. The duty of the state is to enforce laws that respect the rights of its citizens.

    2. Our state fulfils its duty.

    3. Open borders will mean that our state gets corrupted into a body that enforces laws that violate the rghts of its citizens.

    Therefore,

    4. Our state will fulfil its duty only if does not permit open borders.

    Of course, 2 is false, so it needs to be toned down; but I am just giving a general form of argument which, it seems to me, is untouched by your strategy of argumentation for open borders.

    • Jameson Graber

      I don’t see how this is untouched by Brennan’s reductio argument. Lots of things could replace “open borders” in premise 3. Free speech, freedom of religion–heck, given this current presidential campaign, it seems like you could substitute “letting the people vote” for “open borders.” So what makes open borders especially problematic in ways these others aren’t?

      • Jason Brennan

        In all fairness, I actually do endorse an argument similar to this on behalf of restricting voting rights. But I think voting rights are different from speech rights.

      • Restrictions on free speech would involve violating the rights of the citizens. So, if free speech meant that our state would get corrupted etc., we would have a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of the state; i.e., a legitimate state would be impossible, because it would have a duty not to violate free speech and a duty to violate it (assuming here, for simplicity, that duties are absolute rather than pro-tanto). Fortunately, free speech does not entail that our state gets corrupted, etc.

        So there are two differences. First, free speech does not lead to a corrupted state, but open borders do. Second, restricting free speech violates the rights of the citizens, but restricting immigration does not.

        You may say that restricting immigration at least violates the rights of the would-be immigrants. That, of course, I must deny. If you come at the question from the assumption that ‘all men are created equal and have equal rights,’ it may be difficult to see how there could be legitimate restrictions on open borders. But I come at it from this angle:

        a. the world is too large to be governed by one state;
        b. different people are often citizens of different states;
        c. legitimate states can impose rights and duties on people that those people did not have before;
        d. states can legitimately treat differentially people who are their citizens and people who are not.

        Point c denies the commonplace idea that states are created by their citizens. States are complex sets of relations amongst people and exist objectively, just as the relation of between-ness exists objectively between a person in the middle and the people on either side.

        • Sean II

          Let me add, somewhere between b) and c):

          In the absence of genuinely voluntary associations of private property holders (currently illegal in all destination states), the state has taken away a right people would otherwise have to choose their associations.

          Which leaves the citizens little choice but to a) completely surrender all vestiges of that right, or b) to capture the state in an effort to preserve some semblance of that right.

          There seems a strong presumption in favor of the second.

        • Jameson Graber

          “So, if free speech meant that our state would get corrupted etc., we would have a reductio ad absurdum of the idea of the state…”

          Well, then I think you *do* have one! Your conditional “if” here is wrong. Free speech has unquestionably done a lot of damage to the well-being and functioning of the state over the years. All kinds of ideologies out there–socialism, fascism, racism–are poisonous to democracy, to freedom, to equal rights, and to our way of life. We tolerate their existence not because they don’t do any damage, but because we hold free speech to be a right worth defending despite its disadvantages.

          The proof of this can be seen in how many time we in West *haven’t* tolerated free speech. Today in Germany it is against the law to spread Nazi ideology. That is a violation of free speech–one I’m ambivalent about, but which at least proves my point that speech can very well be poisonous. The US has also had its violations of free speech (see Sedition Act).

          For a libertarian to insist that free speech isn’t itself a threat to freedom, while immigration is a threat, is laughable.

          • As you might expect, I strongly disagree. Free speech does no damage; nasty views do no damage. We can learn from them, even if it is only learning why they are mistaken. The caveat there is that something that does no damage in one context may do damage in another – hence legitimate restrictions on time, place and manner of speech, but not on content of speech (which is what free speech is about). European laws against Holocaust denial and various forms of hate speech are an affront to everyone. I explain all this in a paper available here:

            https://www.academia.edu/20435616/Freedom_Positive_Negative_Expressive

        • Reasonable Extremist

          I’m not entirely unsympathetic to your argument but I’m not sure about this: “Restrictions on free speech would involve violating the rights of the citizens.” Is it not the case that restrictions on immigration also violate the rights of US citizens to engage in various forms of voluntary exchange with foreigners?

          It would also seem to me that your argument applies only to certain groups of immigrants. For example, it would have some force against open borders with Afghanistan but little force against open borders with Canada or Ireland.

          • The position I take is that a (legitimate) state is an institution that has the authority (Hohfeldian ‘power’) to alter, within limits, the rights and duties of the people within its jurisdiction. The limits derive from the fact that the purpose of the state is to enforce the true set of enforceable moral rules, so the state cannot legitimately enforce rules that are outside of that set. A rule restricting free speech falls outside the set; a rule restricting immigration under some circumstances falls inside the set. How do we know which rules fall inside and which fall outside? The true set of rules is the one that, if everyone complied, would provide the best prospects for the flourishing of persons generally. It is thus a matter for the social sciences to discover which is the true set of moral rules. My opinions about free speech and immigration derive from what I know of social science and current affairs.

            In case you are interested, there is a philosophical discussion and defence of the above in a forthcoming paper of mine which is available here:

            https://www.academia.edu/9200305/The_Good_Bishop_and_the_Explanation_of_Political_Authority

            You may be right that my argument applies only to specific groups of immigrants. In propounding it I had in mind immigrants from backward cultures (the notion of a backward culture can be explained in terms of the true set of moral rules).

          • Reasonable Extremist

            I appreciate the thoughtful response and the link which I look forward to reading at a later date. Immigration restrictions of course involve the use of coercion against (overwhelmingly) peaceful persons so we ought to ensure that a very high standard is met when we restrict it in anyway. The idea of people coming in and turning the US into Pakistan certainly would qualify.

      • Sean II

        But Danny doesn’t need to defeat the reductio argument. That argument defeats itself. Because when you reduce the reductio it turns out to resemble any number of hopelessly silly arguments. Like this:

        Doctor: This patient has cancer. To destroy the tumor we must give chemo, which is admittedly just a kind of poison.

        Brennan: Your position is inconsistent. The tumor would be more completely destroyed if you administer a stronger poison, one that kills many more cells. Why aren’t you willing to do that?

        Doctor: Because that would kill the patient along with the tumor.

        Brennan: But that’s arbitrary. What’s the difference between your half-assed poison and my fully logical, stronger poison?

        Doctor: Quantity and type of cells destroyed, that’s the difference. A healthy patient would need no poison. This cancer patient needs and can benefit from a certain amount. More than that, we end up with no patient at all. Your argument succeeds only by pretending there is no difference of degree involved, when in fact degree is the most important difference…given our goal of preserving as much as possible of the patient’s healthy tissue.

        • Sean II

          For the analogy-resistant…

          Yes, I’m admitting that closed borders are a kind of poison to the tissue of liberty. Yes, I’m admitting a healthy liberal society wouldn’t need that poison.

          But…the tissue of liberalism is not healthy at all. It is quite severely endangered from several different statist tumors, and the fastest way to grow those tumors is to import more statists. Most people on the planet are statists, and under open borders the likely migrant population is more statist than most.

          • Jameson Graber

            I actually sympathize with this argument. I really do. I think the reasons I still embrace open borders are two:
            1) The “two wrongs don’t make a right” argument carries a lot of weight for me, especially where one of those wrongs is a clear violation of basic liberties. When you actually look and see what happens to families ripped apart by immigration restrictions, it’s intolerable. No ends justify these means, as far as I can tell from my moral compass.

            2) I happen to think you’re more likely to get liberty minded people through a selection effect. Much like the first Americans were themselves liberty minded, I think immigrants are more likely to resist tyranny. Why? Because they were fleeing from it in the first place–that’s why they left home. Or even if they weren’t fleeing outright tyranny, they are at least seeking new opportunities–hence they will be more likely to support policies that allow entrepreneurship and freedom of expression. Most of the reports I’ve seen on immigrants’ political attitudes seem to favor this theory.

          • Except that it does not reflect the European experience. We have loads of people from backward countries who now demand that their backward restrictions on behaviour be imposed on everyone here. And when political lobbying is not fully successful, they resort to violence, even including killing people for drawing cartoons.

          • Sean II

            1) No one is making a “two wrongs” argument here. The question is: should we choose one wrong (using force at the border) or another (a more statist society where the amount of forced used in every area of life increases over time). There are many different arguments we can have about that, especially about the expected size of the second problem, but “two wrongs don’t make a right” fails to answer ANY of those arguments.

            2) The selection effect argument is a good story, but it fails an obvious test: the idea that “I need to get away from Bashar Al-Assad” is not remotely identical to the idea “I shall become a reliable opponent of tyranny in principal”. Plenty of people experience tyranny without learning any general lesson about freedom. Usually they just decide that their particular tyrant was a bad apple, without discarding any of the underlying premises in their political culture.

            Witness: the people of the former East Bloc are not more libertarian than the people of the West. If you were right about the experience of tyranny tending to make people more liberal, they would be.

          • Jameson Graber

            The people who *left* the East Bloc are absolutely more libertarian than the people of West. OK, it’s true I don’t have a study to back that up, but that’s been my experience. When I meet people who left the former Soviet Union to come to the US, they tend to be firmly against socialism.

            I guess I see how your particular argument isn’t a “two wrongs” argument. It certainly sounds like one coming from a lot of people–“there’s no way we can get our government not to give handouts so we can’t accept more immigrants,” etc.–but you seem to be saying that more statism is guaranteed if we let in more foreigners. That argument rings hollow for me, because I think we’re getting more statism all the time, without open borders at all! Socialism was an idea created by Westerners for Westerners, during a time when there was hardly any immigration into Europe from the outside. We come up with this crap all by ourselves.

          • intalecshul

            Yes.
            I’d argue that we wouldn’t need borders IF the countries on the other side were equal or better than ours in terms of political and cultural habits. Alas, that is not the case.

            We should also observe that we do the natives of these countries no favors by serving as the political relief valve. Without us serving to temporarily solve the problem of Mexico’s oligarchy by sopping up their most discontented and oppressed, the populace might have long ago risen up and overthrown them. The open border is a gift to the oppressors.

    • MARK_D_FRIEDMAN

      And, indeed, here is a somewhat more fleshed out version of your argument: http://naturalrightslibertarian.com/2016/02/internal-migration-and-open-borders/#more-1234.

  • Sean II

    “The best estimates of the effects of open borders find that they could double world product…”

    The EU has received a large inflow of migrants over the past three years. Why does it’s GDP growth look so very ordinary?

    • Jameson Graber

      Actually, Western Europe’s GDP has certainly benefited from opening its borders to Eastern Europeans (and vice versa).

      The recent wave of migration, however, was a response to an emergency. In order to see economic benefits, these immigrants will have to 1) earn the right to work in their new countries, 2) develop new skills, and 3) think of themselves as actually “immigrating” into their new homes, i.e. not just hope that this is temporary.

      Pay particular attention to 1). A lot of these refugees have no choice but to depend on European governments. It’s ridiculous that they can’t work. But then, a lot of that is due to laws such as the minimum wage and other protections afforded to current employees in Europe.

      I lived in France for a couple of years, and it was frustrating to no end that they couldn’t figure out why unemployment just won’t go down!

      • Sean II

        Ok, that was an honest answer, and I appreciate it.

        Trouble is the open borders argument now sounds like this:
        “Our policy is capable of doubling world GDP. For example, if we eliminate the minimum wage (which isn’t going to happen) and we get rid of occupational licensing (which isn’t going to happen) and we liberalize the market in a dozen other ways (which aren’t going to happen)…THEN we will see what increased migration (which is happening now) can do for economic growth.”

        You see what I’m saying? I’m well acquainted with the arguments that favor “letting a willing employer and a willing employee trade with each other, even if it means crossing a border in the bargain”. Those arguments are excellent indeed.

        Problem: no currently existing destination state has any intention of freeing its labor markets. Indeed, all such states favor the following lunatic policy combination: 1) Rig their labor markets against the least skilled, to favor the middle class, and 2) Enroll the victims of that first policy into state assistance programs.

        As long as that remains true – and god knows we’ve been trying and failing to stop it for 70 years – the GDP growth claims of open borders will remain dubious.

        • Jason Brennan

          We deal with this in the book, and economists have as well. Highly restrictive labor laws make it so that immigration doesn’t produce these beneficial effects, because people can’t get jobs.

          • Sean II

            Right, so why don’t you…

            a) stop using that argument, since it makes a prediction you know to be unrealizable under present and foreseeable conditions in the U.S. and especially in Europe, or…

            b) at least put an asterisk beside that bad boy, indicating it holds only under certain conditions, so people can clearly see you’re making a prediction about someplace other than the world they live in?

        • Jameson Graber

          OK, but as a libertarian, it makes sense for me to argue for open borders because, after all, two wrongs don’t make a right. If people don’t want to accept other libertarian policies, that doesn’t give them an excuse to reject this one.

          Here’s what I don’t understand. You yourself, like many others, argue that we need to protect our culture from an influx of immigrants that’s too high. But here you’re basically admitting is that our culture is at fault for preventing more global economic growth. In other words, *our culture is at fault for keeping people poor.* I’m not sure I want to preserve this culture.

          Then we just need to remind ourselves that our culture produced Donald Trump. That’s pretty much the last straw that breaks that argument.

          • Sean II

            Here’s where you’re going wrong:

            Your premise: “The culture of North America and Europe is disappointing compared to what we can imagine for it” may be true, but it doesn’t get you anywhere near…

            Your conclusion: “therefore let’s just give up and trade it all in for cultures we know to be worse…and worse specifically according to the liberal values by which we judge ours deficient!”

            See how that fails to follow? Need a specific example? Okay:

            One of the things that makes Trump so revolting is his backward attitude toward women. On that I feel sure we agree. But compared to the median inhabitant of Africa and the Islamic World, Trump is a radical feminist.

            If the Donald makes you want to give up on our culture, a few million more of those guys will have you jumping off a bridge.

          • Jameson Graber

            The best parts of Western culture are its cosmopolitan centers. The people I respect and admire the most in our country are the ones who actively welcome newcomers, get involved in lively interactions over cultural differences, and synthesize, taking the best of all the ideas and practices of the whole world and making something new.

            The worst parts of our culture–the people voting for Donald Trump–are nativists, who have never left the region of their home, who don’t even care to know about other parts of their own country much less other countries.

            I imagine it’s similar in other countries. Anyone willing to leave their home country to search for a new way of life in the West is probably going to be okay. Or they’re just desperately trying to escape poverty, in which case I don’t really care how sexist they are.

          • Sean II

            Trump voters are bad and all, but they’re not the worst our culture has to offer.

            The culture of the ‘hood is much worse. For one thing, it holds violence as a normal or even a preferred method of dispute revolution. Even the Trumpiest rednecks don’t do that. For another, the ‘hood is a place of relentless bigotry. It’s easily the worst place to be different in America. A gay Asian-Jewish Democrat may not get a lot of dinner invites in Limon Colorado, but being ignored is likely to remain his biggest problem. A gay Asian-Jewish Republican in Detroit is a guaranteed victim of violence. Clearly worse.

            Also, you shouldn’t ignore some of the worst cultural atmosphere going in America right now: that of college campuses. Think of a place like Oberlin – the crushing conformism, the frenzied moralizing, the endless in-group signaling competition, the fear created by a constant threat that some trivial incident will be spun into a major crisis, the horde of ignorant and clueless punks who measure social progress by the number of random faculty members they can intimidate or get fired, the kangaroo courts presided over by those same frightened faculty members, etc.

            The typical Trump rally lasts a few hours, and it’s gone. The lunacy of life on our campuses just keeps going.

          • King Goat

            Sean’s dystopian view of Oberlin is as funny as his same of Baltimore. There’s problems at Oberlin (and Baltimore), but they’re not the caricature’s of the right wing press from which some people get all their information about the places. Baltimore’s a very fun, vibrant and mostly safe place, and for most of the time for most of the students/faculty at Oberlin the same can be said.

          • Jeff R.

            Your characterization of Baltimore is true for a few select neighborhoods, but I doubt most of the people who live here would generalize about it as “very fun, vibrant and mostly safe.”

          • Sean II

            More importantly though, you wrote: “Or they’re just desperately trying to escape poverty, in which case I don’t really care how sexist they are.”

            This one actually upsets me. How can you not care? The number of sexist assholes in a society is a key variable in determining how women in that society live.

            It took damn near forever for us to develop a culture where, for the most part, women can do things like wear a skirt, have a drink, walk home by themselves, etc…without having to worry that some maniac was going to regard them as fair game for sexual assault.

            We just achieved that in the past 70 years. It’s precious, it’s recent, it’s fragile. It only takes so many attacks before the chilling effect sets in, and we’re right back to a society where “unaccompanied woman” = “unacceptable risk”.

            And let me be clear, Obama style: one of the best ways to improve a culture is by raising the status of women in it. One of the best ways to impoverish a culture is by setting women back.

          • Jameson Graber

            I think it’s actually more dangerous for women today walking home at night than it would have been at other times in American history. “Progress” in some areas hasn’t really led to more decency. There are plenty of ways in which what many Americans would call a “backwards” community would have more respect for women than liberal culture. Progress is not linear, and making a society better is never a simple matter of counting how many people are in what camp.

            The bottom line for me is that ending poverty is a far more important goal to me than making every man in the world a politically correct saint.

          • Sean II

            For the evidence showing now is safer than then, and indeed now is safer than ever, see : Pinker, Steve.

          • Jerome Bigge

            Here is something to think about: Lets say we invent a device like the “Stargate” (well known SF program that ran for years), but limited to the Earth’s surface. Suddenly there is no “distance” anywhere on Earth. People can step through the “Gate” from any country and step out into any other country. Both services and goods can move through the “Gate”.

            Employers replace their American employees with people from other countries who will work for a lot less. Americans who need to see a doctor go to India where the office fee is 1/10th of what it is here. For Americans and those living in the other developed countries, goods and services are suddenly a whole lot cheaper. However their employers quickly lay off all of their “expensive” workers and replace them with people who will gladly work for 1/10 th of what the now “former” workers were getting. To work, you have to agree to work for the same wages that someone from say China and Vietnam is willing to work for. You also end up having to move to somewhere where you can afford to live. Effectively everyone ends up earning a level of income (except for those who were wealthy and stockpiled enough money) that is “Third World”, although for the former inhabitants of the “Third World” are now somewhat better off.

            This would be the consequence of what the world would look like with no borders and no restrictions upon the movement of goods and people.

          • Jameson Graber

            “although for the former inhabitants of the “Third World” are now somewhat better off.”

            I think by “somewhat” you mean “a whole heck of a lot better off.”

            You’re also missing an essential ingredient. First world workers aren’t just better off because of where they live, but what skills they have and how they’re educated. True, having no distance left would diminish this difference over time. But that would be fantastic! If everyone in the world could gain the same skills as people in the West and learn the same work habits, we’d completely eliminate poverty. Obviously there would be other problems to deal with, but this would be an amazing leap forward.

          • Jerome Bigge

            There isn’t that large a gap in skills. I did ignore the problem of language, but note that the Indian doctor earns a fraction of his American counterpart mainly because of where he practices medicine. Not due to having lesser skills. The minimum wage burger flipper here earns probably ten times what his Chinese replacement would be willing to work for. It is government “protection” through licensing and regulation that allows our professionals and skilled workers to earn the incomes that they do today. Take away that “protection” and suddenly their incomes drop to free market levels. With unlimited immigration, the level of earnings would be a lot lower yet. Also both China and India do graduate a lot of highly trained people, although perhaps less in percentage than we do.

          • Jameson Graber

            It’s true that wages would equalize, and at first I suppose that would mean lower wages for Western workers. But over time (perhaps not much time at all) it would just mean everyone is better off.

          • Jerome Bigge

            There would be a “leveling off” of incomes, but would this also mean a reduction in the cost of living? Think that your doctor who now charges $150 for an office visit be willing to match the fee of a doctor in India charging $15? No doubt the doctor in India would raise his fees, but for a time the US doctor would likely lose most of his patients.

            The licensed professions and occupations are quite able to do whatever is necessary to keep their status and so far it appears that they’d be able to get Congress to agree. So the “Gateway” device gets a “top secret” classification and the inventor, if lucky, makes a “deal” with his government.

            In order for any libertarian idea to succeed, it first has to have the support of the majority of the voters. I do think that “The War on Drugs” possibly no longer has this much support any more. And my “pet topic”, the repeal of prescription laws is more and more likely since there is a push now towards making birth control pills “OTC.

        • Ed Ucation

          Sean II, the solution to that problem is to argue for open borders AND for freeing labor markets. You don’t tackle one violation of rights by calling for another. That’s like calling for the sterilization of poor people, because they are on welfare and will create more welfare recipients.

          • Sean II

            Wrong. If I argue for open borders AND labor market freedom, I MAY get the first one, but I definitely WON’T get the second.

            Which means my argument either does nothing (if both pleas are ignored) or it does something bad (if the first plea is heeded but the second ignored) by adding a bunch of new immigrants to lower end of our current unfree labor market.

          • Ed Ucation

            How is that? We are nowhere near open borders. I would say the chances of that are about equal with the chances for getting a free labor market. I also disagree that an argument is useless if it does not result in a political success. David Friedman put it very well recently:
            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7fT6EAjU284

          • Sean II

            The West is approaching open borders more rapidly than it is labor market freedom.

            That’s why you CAN find stories about millions of dudes entering Europe at the invitation of its most powerful head of state, but you CAN’T find stories about major European states abolishing their minimum wages.

          • Ed Ucation

            First of, it is not millions, but thousands. Second, it’s a far cry from an open border. These people are not just walking in without being stopped. They have to get their exit papers first, which means they have to get designated as refugees. That’s why the North Africans are stealing Syrian passports in the camps on the Greek islands. If it was an open border, they would not have to do that.

          • Hollis Butts

            In fairness, Sean said “approaching” open borders, not that open borders had been realized.

          • King Goat

            Well put…I notice your analogy was not addressed…

      • Jerome Bigge

        Employment is determined by the number of employees needed to do a task that the employer wants done and for which consumers will pay for. Basic supply and demand. Altered by the level of automation used that replaces employees.

  • Jameson Graber

    Maybe I’m too cynical, but I would say that for each of your “bite the bullet” items, there are at least some people, who probably even think of themselves as mainstream, who would support it. Eugenics? Forced birth control? We’ve already tried it in the past, and I don’t think we’re as far away from supporting it today as you might want to believe. Censorship? That’s arguably already a problem. Religious control? We have a man who could very well win the Republican nomination who has argued that we should have Muslims registered. France already has laws against wearing religious symbols in schools, and Germany has contemplated (passed?) laws against circumcision.

    In other words, freedom generally isn’t all that popular, really. No wonder open borders is only popular among us libertarian weirdos.

    • Sean II

      I think you mean “forced eugenics”.

      There’s nothing wrong with voluntary eugenics, and hence no bullet to bite there. Most people practice voluntary eugenics to the extent they can.

      • Jameson Graber

        Yes, I do mean forced eugenics.

  • Jerome Bigge

    Name a country that has open borders today? Studies of primitive hunter-gatherer groups show that they all have areas that they consider “theirs”. Studies of chimps by Jane Goodall showed the same. All of the primate species have “territories”. Predator species such as canines also have “territories”. It is true that during the 19th Century there were few restrictions upon who could come to the US. Mainly due to the US having a lot of territory and a relatively small population to fill it.

    • King Goat

      If we were to let the bulk of human history guide us we’d have to give up on most of liberalism.

  • Alex Durante

    This a good post which frames the philosophical arguments for open borders nicely. However, when it comes to the empirical evidence, the typical reading of the immigration literature by open borders proponents basically commits this fallacy:

    1. We have studies that show that CURRENT levels of immigration do not increase crime, lower wages, lead to a reduction social capital, etc.
    2. If we remove all borders and increase immigration even more, then we can expect these favorable conditions to hold
    3. Let’s open the borders.

    Even if I grant the first premise, and on a variety of those issues the economic literature is far from as one-sided as open borders proponents claim, there is no reason for the second premise to be true. If taking a pill helps alleviate whatever ailment I have, does that mean taking two pills will be better for me? Three? Four? The whole bottle? In short, degree matters.

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