The Open Borders attack

At least a dozen times in MR comments I’ve seen remarks describing me as an Open Borders advocate; this is in spite of having written explicitly to the contrary (here, see also here).  I do favor more immigration, including of the unskilled variety.  But truly open borders would put an unbearable strain on the cultural foundations of American liberal democracy; many of the immigrants themselves would be the biggest losers.  Maybe Megan McArdle (no, not her) had a good post saying much the same.  The more radical libertarians should take a cue from what is best in conservatism.

Why should the ascription of an open borders position prove so common?  Many of the anti-immigration arguments are correct when applied to the open borders position, so why not set up, find, or create the debate where one’s position is strongest?  When it comes to marginal changes, the results of which depend on empirical study, it is harder to be a polemic doomsayer.  An increase in unskilled immigrants — surely good for the immigrants themselves, and yes we can debate how many and from where — will not bring disaster to the United States.

(It is also worth pointing out that many of these "unskilled" workers in fact do a much better job at construction or carpentry than American-born alternatives.  If the immigrants are getting $15 or $20 an hour, the American might well receive less.)

The failure of the recent immigration bill was a partial surprise, but asset prices didn’t much move one way or the other.  Similarly, if a swarm of Latinos were going to turn southern California into a degenerating Mexifornia, real estate prices would be plunging.  The reality is that prices have fallen with the burst of the real estate bubble but have otherwise been rising throughout a period of continuing and predictable Latino immigration.  (Contra Steve Sailer, robust real estate prices do not come automatically from greater numbers and thus "rising demand"; it is easy enough for large numbers of rotten people to ruin land values if the inflow is destructive in net terms.)

Matt Yglesias hopes something better might yet come than the failed and highly imperfect immigration bill.  He sees a steady trend toward greater influence for liberal Democrats and a better chance in the future.  I see this issue as a Black Swan; no matter which party holds the presidency, one focal and negative public event could set back the cause of immigration reform for twenty years.  I am sad that nothing good is likely to happen soon.


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