Wednesday, 20 November 2019

"Open Borders Are a Trillion-Dollar Idea"

In his new comic book Open Borders, best-selling author and economist Bryan Caplan argues that "tearing down all barriers to migration isn’t crazy—it’s an opportunity for a global boom."

To ignore the opportunity, he says, is like failing to pick up a trillion-dollar note you see sitting on the footpath.
To see the massive missed opportunity of which I speak, consider the migration of a low-skilled Haitian from Port-au-Prince to Miami. In Haiti, he would earn about $1,000 per year. In Miami, he could easily earn $25,000 per year. How is such upward mobility possible? Simply put: Human beings are much more productive in Florida than in Haiti—thanks to better government policies, better management, better technology, and much more. The main reason Haitians suffer in poverty is not because they are from Haiti but because they are in Haiti. If you were stuck in Haiti, you, too, would probably be destitute.
    But borders aren’t just a missed opportunity for those stuck on the wrong side on them. If the walls come down, almost everyone benefits because immigrants sell the new wealth they create—and the inhabitants of their new country are their top customers. As long as Haitians remain in Haiti, they produce next to nothing—and therefore do next to nothing to enrich the rest of the world. When they move, their productivity skyrockets—and so does their contribution to their new customers. When you see a Haitian restaurant in Miami, you shouldn’t picture the relocation of a restaurant from Port-au-Prince; you should picture the creation of a restaurant that otherwise would never have existed—not even in Haiti itself.

    The central function of existing immigration laws is to prevent this wealth creation from happening—to trap human talent in low-productivity countries. Out of all the destructive economic policies known to man, nothing on Earth is worse. I’m not joking. Standard estimates say open borders would ultimately double humanity’s wealth production. How is this possible? Because immigration sharply increases workers’ productivity—and the world contains many hundreds of millions of would-be immigrants. Multiply a massive gain per person by a massive number of people and you end up with what the economist Michael Clemens calls “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk.”
But, but, we'll be overwhelmed!
Even the largest countries cannot absorb hundreds of millions of immigrants overnight. True enough, but no reasonable person expects hundreds of millions to come overnight, either. Instead, immigration usually begins slowly and then snowballs. Puerto Ricans have been legally allowed to move to the United States since 1904, but it took almost a century before Puerto Ricans in the United States came to outnumber the population left on the island. Wasn’t the European migration crisis an unmanageable flood of humanity? Hardly. Despite media outcry, total arrivals from 2014 to 2018 came to less than 1 percent of the population of the European Union. Many European countries—most notably West Germany during the Cold War—have swiftly absorbed much larger inflows in the past.

But, but, East Germans weren't really foreigners were they!
While West Germans welcomed millions of East German migrants, a much lower dose of Middle Eastern and African migration has made the whole EU shiver. Aren’t economists who dwell on economic gains just missing the point? ...
    Let’s start with readily measurable cultural and political effects. In the United States, the most common cultural complaint is probably that—in contrast to the days of Ellis Island—today’s immigrants fail to learn English. The real story, though, is that few first-generation immigrants have ever become fluent in adulthood; it’s just too hard. German and Dutch immigrants in the 19th century maintained their stubborn accents and linguistic isolation all their lives; New York’s Yiddish newspapers were a fixture for decades. For their sons and daughters, however, acquiring fluency is child’s play—even for groups like Asians and Hispanics that are often accused of not learning English.
But, but, they'll all vote for [insert whichever party which the objector is opposed]!
Who knows how vast numbers of new immigrants would vote? Indeed, shouldn’t we expect people from dysfunctional polities to bring dysfunctional politics with them?
These are fine questions, but the answers are not alarming. At least in the United States, the main political division between the native- and foreign-born is engagement.   Even immigrants legally able to vote are markedly less likely than native-born citizens to exercise this right. In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, for example, 72 percent of eligible native-born citizens voted versus just 48 percent of eligible immigrants.  Wherever they politically stand, then, immigrants’ opinions are relatively inert.
    In any case, immigrants’ political opinions don’t actually stand out. On average, they’re a little more economically liberal and a little more socially conservative, and that’s about it. Yes, low-skilled immigrants’ economic liberalism and social conservatism are more pronounced, but their turnout is low; in 2012, only 27 percent of those eligible to vote opted to do so. So while it would not be alarmist to think that immigration will slightly tilt policy in an economically liberal, socially conservative direction, warning that “immigrants will vote to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” is paranoid.
All these arguments and many more have for a long time been addressed in my own fumbling way here at this blog, and in almost point-by-point detail by Jason Krupp at the New Zealand Institute and Alex Nowrestah at the Cato Institute. Caplan's main point is the positive one: that allowing peaceful people to cross borders and work freely for whichever employer wants them, wherever that employer might be, is ultimately good all round.
This is ultimately how I see the case for open borders. Denying human beings the right to rent an apartment from a willing landlord or accept a job offer from a willing employer is a serious harm. How much would someone have to pay the average American to spend the rest of his or her life in Haiti or Syria? To morally justify such harm, we need a clear and present danger, not gloomy speculation. Yet when we patiently and calmly study immigration, the main thing we observe is: people moving from places where their talent goes to waste to places where they can realize their potential. What we see, in short, is immigrants enriching themselves by enriching the world.
What else does he talk about? Almost everything. The answer to all the following is "YES!"
5. Do you talk about global apartheid?
6. Do you talk about the level of illegal immigration?
7. Do you talk about human smuggling?
8. Do you talk about the effectiveness of immigration law at preventing and deterring illegal immigration?
9. Do you talk about immigration as a civil right?
10. Do you talk about whether the plight of the immigrant is our problem?
11. Do you talk about whether there is a right to immigrate?
12. Do you talk about whether this right is absolute?
19. Do you talk about the benefits of immigration for immigrants?
20. Do you talk about the benefits of immigration for natives?
21. Do you talk about how much immigration actually helps immigrants?
22. Do you talk about why immigration helps immigrants?
23. Do you talk about how much a trillion dollars of gains really buys?
29. Do you talk about what open borders would really look like?
34. Do you talk about brain drain?
35. Do you talk about what good for places versus what’s good for people?
36. Do you talk about zombie economies?
37. Do you talk about how immigration’s fiscal effects vary by immigrant skill?
38. Do you talk about whether open borders and the welfare state are compatible?
40. Do you talk about how welfare states prioritise the old versus the poor?
41. Do you talk about the cost of educating immigrants’ children?
42. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on the sustainability of retirement systems?
51. Do you talk about the value of Western civilisation? 
69. Do you talk about the cultural benefits of immigration?
70. Do you talk about immigrants’ desire for freedom?
71. Do you talk about immigrants’ disdain for freedom?
72. Do you talk about the danger that immigrants will vote to “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs”?
84. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on national IQ?
85. Do you talk about whether you’re virtue signalling?
92. Do you talk about restricting immigrants’ eligibility for government benefits?
93. Do you talk about requiring immigrants to learn English?
94. Do you talk about requiring immigrants to acquire cultural literacy?
Answer to all the above: "YES!"

There are answers for everyone, even for the antediluvians:
52. Do you talk about the cultural dangers of admitting non-Western immigrants?
53. Do you talk about terrorism, mass rape, human trafficking, Sharia, and the decline of English?
95. Do you talk about the dangers of Islam?
96. Do you talk about Muslim bans?
97. Do you talk about keyhole solutions for the dangers of Islam?
Answer: Yes.

Q: What's a "keyhole solution" for the dangers of Islam?
A: Read the damn book.  Or this summary. Or listen to a podcast interview here.

Q: Do you need to embrace every answer?
A: "No," says the author. "My immediate goal is more modest: I’d like to convince you that open borders aren’t crazy. While we take draconian regulation of migration for granted, the central goal of this regulation is to trap valuable labour in unproductive regions of the world. This sounds cruel and misguided. Shouldn’t we at least double-check our work to make sure we’re not missing a massive opportunity for ourselves and humanity?"

He has a point. And it's a good one.


  1. I look forward to getting my copy back from the 11 year old so I can read it...

  2. Yep might read it but like most economists they take one idea, in this case Haitians moving to Florida, and extrapolate it as a solution to mankind. Of course he ignores the factor of culture, and probably assumes "ceteris paribus".
    I bet the Swedes wish they could turn the clock back but hey in 100 years they'll all be coloured chocolate and speak an African language but will they be more productive?

    1. So you read above the topics he covers, and then just ignore that he says he covers your favourite obsession. You, sir or madam, are a waste of space. Don't come back.

  3. You were the one that called it a comic book... sorry for expressing tongue in cheek humour....didn't realise you were a snowflake

  4. " the central goal of this regulation is to trap valuable labour in unproductive regions of the world."
    So I'm a waste of space am I, and what are you sir or madam, for entertaining this statement without question.
    Publish this or be dammed , sir or madam.

  5. The fact is Rosco you can't fix libertarian, it's a yoke around our neck, it wouldn't matter a whit, but David Seymour is one. No amount of reality inetersts him. Libertarians cary a highly developed impression of their superiority of thinking. Supremacists you might say. We are a distinctly lower form of life you see , on the wrong side of History you see. I don't know know how many overseas countries people like Peter C and Eris Crampton have spent time in, not Isl8mic Sewerden I would think, Sweden is sinking fast, Conservatives on a major rise througout Europe and the Americas.

  6. He we are Rosco this is for you and me >> "There are answers for everyone, even for the antediluvians:" Big word that antediluvian, didn't know PC was a Christian.


Comments are moderated to encourage honest conversation, and remove persistent trolls.