After reading Alex’s post I was a bit worried I would wake up this morning and find the blog retitled, maybe with a new subtitle too. Just a few quick points:
1. There is a clear utilitarian case against open borders, namely that it will — in some but not all cases — lower the quality of governance and destroy the goose that lays the golden eggs. The world’s poor would end up worse off too. I wonder if Alex will apply his absolutist idea on fully open borders to say Taiwan.
2. Alex’s examples don’t support his case as much as he suggests. The American Revolution compromised drastically on slavery, among other matters. (And does Alex even favor that revolution? Should he? Can you be a moral absolutist on both that revolution and on slavery?) American slavery ended through a brutal war, not through the persuasiveness of moral absolutists per se. The British abolished slavery for off-shore islands, but they were very slow to dismantle colonialism, and would have been slower yet if not for two World Wars and fiscal collapse. Should the British anti-slavery movement have insisted that all oppressive British colonialism be ended at the same time? You may argue this one as you wish, but the point is one of empirics, not that the morally absolutist position is generally better.
3. Gay marriage is like “open borders for Canadians.” I’m for both, but I don’t see many people succeeding with the “let’s privatize marriage” or “let’s allow any consensual marriage” arguments, no matter what their moral or practical merits may be. Gay marriage advocates were wise to stick with the more practical case, again choosing an interior solution. Often the crusades which succeed are those which feel morally absolute to their advocates and which also seem like practically-minded compromises to moderates and the undecided.
4. Large numbers of important changes have come quite gradually, including women’s rights, protection against child abuse, and environmentalism, among others. I don’t for instance think parents should ever hit their children, but trying to make further progress on children’s rights by stressing this principle is probably a big mistake and counterproductive.
5. The strength of tribalist intuitions suggests that the moral arguments for fully open borders will have a tough time succeeding or even gaining basic traction in a world where tribalist sentiments have very often been injected into the level of national politics and where, nationalism, at least in the wealthier countries, is perceived as working pretty well. The EU is by far the biggest pro-immigration step we’ve seen, which is great, but we’re seeing the limits of how far that can be pushed. My original post gave some good evidence that a number of countries — though not the United States — are pretty close to the point of backlash from further immigration. Rather than engaging such evidence, I see many open boarders supporters moving further away from it.
6. In the blogosphere, is moralizing really that which needs to be raised in relative status?
Addendum: Robin Hanson adds comment.
And: Alex responds in the comments:
Some good points but only point number #5 actually addresses my argument. I argued that strong, principled moral arguments are most likely to succeed. Point #5 rests on mood affiliation. I know because having a different mood I read the facts in that point in entirely the opposite way. Namely that it’s amazing that although our moral instincts were built on the tribe we have managed to expand the moral circle far beyond the tribe. Having come so far I see no reason why we can’t continue to expand the moral circle to include all human beings. The open borders of the EU is indeed a triumph. Let’s create the same thing with Canada and then lets join with the EU.
Do not make the mistake (as in point #2) of thinking that the moral argument only succeeds when we make fully moral choices. It also succeeds by pushing people to move in the right direction when other arguments would not do that at all.