The Moral Is the Practical

Tyler concedes the moral high ground to advocates of open borders but argues that the proposal is “doomed to fail and probably also to backfire in destructive ways.” In contrast, I argue that the moral high ground is tactically the best ground from which to launch a revolution. In Entrepreneurial Economics I wrote:

No one goes to the barricades for efficiency. For liberty, equality or fraternity, perhaps, but never for efficiency.

Contra Tyler, the lesson of history is that few things are as effective at launching a revolution as is moral argument. Without the firebrand Thomas We have it in our power to begin the world over again Paine, the American Revolution would probably never have happened. Paine’s Common Sense, the most widely read book of its time, is about as far from Tyler’s synthetic, marginalist argument as one can imagine and it was effective.

Paine2When in 1787 Thomas Clarkson founded The Society for the Abolition of the Slave Trade a majority of the world’s people were held in slavery or serfdom and slavery was considered by almost everyone as normal, as it had been considered for thousands of years and across many nations and cultures. Slavery was also immensely profitable and woven into the fabric of the times. Yet within Clarkson’s lifetime slavery would be abolished within the British Empire. Whatever one may say about this revolution one can certainly say that it was not brought about by a “synthetic and marginalist” approach. If instead of abolition, Clarkson had settled on the goal of providing for better living conditions for slaves on the voyage from Africa it seems quite possible that slavery would still be with us today.

In more recent times, civil unions have gone nowhere while equality of marriage has succeeded beyond all expectation. The problem with civil unions, and with the synthetic and marginalist approach more generally, is that even though it offers everyone something that they want, it concedes the moral high ground–perhaps there is something different about gay marriage which makes it ok to treat it differently–and for that reason it attracts few adherents. Moreover, the argument for civil unions doesn’t force the opposition to enunciate the moral arguments for their opposition and when the moral ground of the opposition is weak that is a strategic failure.

The moral argument for open borders is powerful. How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in countries where their political or geographic institutions prevent them from making a living?  Indeed, most moral frameworks (libertarian, utilitarian, egalitarian, and others) strongly favor open borders or find it difficult to justify restrictions on freedom of movement. As a result, people who openly defend closed borders sound evil, even when they are simply defending what most people implicitly accept. When your opponents occupy ground that they cannot–even on their own moral premises–defend then it is time to attack.


You just proved the seductiveness of the manifesto. Where's my musket?!

Trivia: we had rifles, the British only muskets, why they had to go get Hessians.

This argument and those like it needs a better phrase than accident of birth. It seems an absurdity to anyone who takes more than the occasional casual moment to reflect on their parents' role in their life.

I don't know if it's the phrase "accident of birth" as much as a need to emphasize the distinction between immigrants' negative and positive rights (with terms that are less dull than "negative" and "positive" rights). Obviously, Alex is saying that it's immoral to actively interfere with someone's right to pursue their own happiness, for example, by preventing them from accepting employment from a willing employer, simply due to the accident of their birth. That's quite different from saying that people with different parents should not have different comforts due to the accident of their birth. The former is a negative right to be free from active interference, and the latter is about a positive right to receive or be provided something.

It's clear from typical criticisms of open borders that open border advocates continually emphasize that they are not arguing for immigrants to be "given" anything, just for people to stop actively interfering with immigrants' efforts to build better lives for themselves.

Correction, last sentence: "...that open border advocates *need to* continually emphasize..."

The notion that the advocates of Open Borders enjoy the "high moral ground" is absurd. In real life, they are just the latest (and most arrogant and ardent) advocates of Slave Power. They claim a position based on some notion of superior principles. In truth, they are united only by their base greed and selfishness. The connection between Slave Power and Open Borders is apparent today and throughout American (and world) history.

For several millennium, there has always been an overclass eager to profit from cheap labor, preferably cheap labor with a different hue. The desire of the overclass to exploit some class of helots, rather than pay wages to their own citizens shows up time and time again. It shows up in antiquity, Europe after WWII, and in America today. Of course, it appears in many other places and times as well.

Rome provides one example. The Roman plutocracy eagerly exploited an ever greater quantity slave labor in the years leading up to Julius Caesar. Of course, the position of ordinary Romans declined as the plutocracy cast off the citizenry of Rome in favor of slaves. Welfare dependency (food handouts) expanded. Julius Caesar imposed laws limiting the use of slaves in favor of free Roman citizens, a step that did little to endear him to the aristocracy.

Overall, part of the story of Rome in the time of Julius Caesar, is expanding exploitation of slaves and rising welfare dependency. Can anyone fall to see the parallels with Open Borders and exploding food stamps in our own era?

One of the defining characteristics of Slave Power was the love of radical inequality, both economic and racial. No one can be surprised that the Open Borders movement shares these nightmare visions. At the height of Slave Power the instruments were whips and chains. Now we have the supposed virtues of cheap labor and the polite idea of 'complementary immigration'. The reality that 'complementary immigration', means a society of ever more radical inequality is left out, though the advocates of Open Borders know the plot all too well.

Of course, we should not ignore the racial element of Open Borders. A decade ago, a prominent Mexican intellectual, Fredo Arias King wrote about the desire of white American politicians (both parties) for a more docile, subservient electorate. The politicians complained that their constituents were "too demanding" and how importing a new electorate would "solve" this problem. They eagerly embraced the Patron-Client relationship that mass immigration would make possible.

Why is it important to Slave Power that the immigrants be notably different? Because while Slave Power is greedy without limit, it has no desire to embrace and integrate those that it eager to exploit. The more different the slaves, the easier it is to keep them at a distance. In the 19th century Slave Power imposed draconian Black Codes to maintain their position. The Slave Power of our time, Open Borders, uses gated communities, restrictive zoning, and inflated real estate prices to maintain the same separation between those who profit from Open Borders, and the immigrants themselves.

Open Borders has been directly linked to Slave Power throughout much of American history. The Know Nothings were clearly xenophobic and anti-catholic. They were also the first anti-slavery party (in the North) in American history. By contrast, the Democrats captured the immigrant vote and worked tirelessly to expand slavery.

After the Civil War, Slave Power demanded an endless supply of cheap imported labor, regardless of the impact on ordinary Americans. Samuel Gompers, himself a Jewish immigrant from the UK put it well.

"America must not be overwhelmed.

Every effort to enact immigration legislation must expect to meet a number of hostile forces and, in particular, two hostile forces of considerable strength.

One of these is composed of corporation employers who desire to employ physical strength (broad backs) at the lowest possible wage and who prefer a rapidly revolving labor supply at low wages to a regular supply of American wage earners at fair wages.

The other is composed of racial groups in the United States who oppose all restrictive legislation because they want the doors left open for an influx of their countrymen regardless of the menace to the people of their adopted country."

In our own time, we have Karl Rove demonstrating that Open Borders is just a new name for Slave Power. Let me quote

"I don't want my 17-year-old son to have to pick tomatoes or make beds in Las Vegas"

Here we have the greed, racism, and segregationist worldview of Open Borders / Slave Power in just one sentence. Paul Cella captured the intrinsic connection between slave power and Open Borders when he wrote.

"Karl Rove is not alone in his expression of this trend. We have heard its like many times. It is rather horrifying to see this brazen appeal to class interests; and the horror is only magnified by the denigration of some category of honest work. A rather provocative way to state the problem is that the Republican Party, under its current leadership, is advancing a plutocratic theory of politics: an aristocracy of wealth. But even this does not capture the full ugliness of the thing, for in a true plutocracy, no form of wealth is derided. That a man made his fortune by, let us, “picking tomatoes” or “making beds,” does not bar him from entry into power. But here it is indicated that some occupations are dishonorable by nature, and that even success at them is contemptible.

It is noteworthy to me that this position flips the whole “jobs American won’t do” argument on its head. It’s not that there are jobs Americans won’t do: it’s that there are jobs we shouldn’t, because we are better that. Some are born to be served; and some are born to serve."

The struggle against Open Borders is the struggle against Slave Power for today. Those who took up Slave Power in another time, now cloak their despotism under the pretense of Open Borders. Far being the upholders of some superior morality, they are the modern heirs of an ancient and endless desire to exploit those of a different race, creed and color. Anyone who takes up Open Borders has made of himself an advocate of Slave Power, a disciple of Slave Power, and an agent of Slave Power. All men and women of good will must oppose Slave Power and commit themselves to its abolition.

Clearly business would benefit from access to greater pools of labour.

I think that Open Borders folks are more interested in the benefits that this would bring to people born in very poor countries and the generally improved social justice situation that this would result in (without considering potential problems such as who pays for the education when your educated populace can so easily pick up and leave).

There was a time when people could, in principle, go anywhere, so long as they had funds to get there and managed not to get robbed, slain along the way. For much of history, borders were porous and people desperate to enter a neighbouring country for economic reasons could do so (citation needed).

Now some people look to solutions like literally building up giant walls to keep out many of the most desperate people who have the nerve to take their natural rights into their own hands and empower themselves by seeking better economic opportunities elsewhere.

Wow! That was powerful. Thank you.


"There was a time when people could, in principle, go anywhere, so long as they had funds to get there and managed not to get robbed, slain along the way"

Actually, no.

It is quite true that government restrictions on movement, including immigration, were much lower in the past. However, it is also deeply misleading. Why? Because non-state restrictions were overwhelming, eliminating the need for government controls.

1.The cost of movement was 1-2 orders of magnitude higher than it is today. Depending on the year and location, it could take a worker months to years to save up the cost of steamship ticket. Indeed, in many of the poorer parts of the world, it was essentially impossible for anyone to buy a ticket out. As a consequence, immigrants tended to be much better educated than non-immigrants and to come from higher income countries.

Eventually, improvements in transportation made it economically feasible for poor people to emigrate. Opposition to immigration arose worldwide as a consequence. In the United States this was called the ‘old immigration’ vs. the ‘new immigration’. However, the basic distinction between high income, high skill immigrants and low skill immigrants was observed everywhere.

2. In the 19th century there was no welfare state. The economics of low-skill immigrants were considerably superior to the what they are today. Total government spending on social services was quite low setting a rather low upper bound on the potential burden of unskilled immigrants. Clearly that is not true today. ironically, there may have been more expressed concern about the economic cost of low-skill immigrants back then (when it was low) than now (when it is huge). Political Correctness is a wonderful tool of social oppression.

3. Income differentials between rich and poor nations were lower before 1900. The economic incentive to migrate was commensurately lower.

For a good discussion, see “Immigration to Sweden 1860-1914 [Updated]“. ( Quote

“Cato institute’s Johan Norberg argues that unrestricted immigration to Sweden is not “urealistic”, because Sweden had unrestricted immigration between 1860-1914.

”This proposal [open borders] is not based on an untested utopia, but on the realization that World War One is over. In 1860, Sweden and other European countries introduced open borders. Anyone was allowed to migrate and work freely.”

In this period there simply was no immigration pressure on Sweden. This is because the costs of moving from the third world to Sweden were prohibitively high compared to the gain, so virtually no one was able to migrate.

Of the Swedish population of five million, fewer than two thousand were non-western immigrants in 1900. That year according to SCB only 0.7 percent of the Swedish population was constituted by immigrants, and only 0.04 percent by immigrants from outside of Europe and North America. The number of immigrants from outside the West to Sweden was a rounding error a century ago. Nor was there any large scale migration from the other Nordic countries.

In the entire five decade period 1871 to 1920, only around 3700 individuals moved to Sweden from outside of Europe and North America. By comparison during the last decade alone the number of such migrants was over 400.000.

In the period Johan Norberg uses as evidence for open borders functioning well, immigration to Sweden from poor countries was virtually impossible, so the government didn’t bother to regulate it. This teaches us nothing about the effects of open borders today.

You cannot draw far-ranging policy conclusions when the underlying technology changes dramatically between two periods. This is like saying that in 1860, we had no laws regulating seatbelts and no car accidents, which proves that we should abolish seatbelt laws are today. Or writing that the Moon has unrestricted migration, anyone can move to the Moon and work without causing any problems, which prove that open borders work.

Obviously we now also have the welfare state which makes things different from 1860. The classic libertarian argument “I support open borders and abolishing the welfare state” does not hold under closer scrutiny.

The welfare state is part of objective reality; not something you can simply assume doesn’t exist to make your answer to the dilemma easier. This is like saying “I support raising taxes on the rich, but I don’t support the rich investing less” and be proud of yourself for having solved the marginal-tax problem in a bi-partisan way. The policy question is that given that the welfare state exists and will exist, do you support open borders or not?

Many libertarians are not acting like adults in the immigration debate, relying too heavility on lightweight arguments. Concluding that that open borders today are realistic because Sweden had open borders in a historic period when there was virtually no immigration is not serious policy analysis ”

“In an article about historical regulation of immigration, sociologist Brendan Mullan writes: “Until the second half of the twentieth century Europe experienced no sustained major migration inflows and consequently with no pressing need for regulation“

Because very few poor people could migrate to Europe in this period due to costs, policy makers and liberal intellectuals simply did not deal with issues related to open borders we face. The experience of 1860-1914 is virtually worthless for deciding how open borders would work today (note too that we already have what they had in practice, namely open borders within Europe). Writing “World War I is Over so let’s open the borders again” is hence an invalid argument.”

As I say, I recognize a parents desire to provide, but I don't think that negates "luck of the draw" from the kid's perspective. I mean, I had remarkably normal parents. Are you suggesting that I therefore had not just more luck but more right to a happy home than some unfortunate in an unstable environment?

I say count our blessings and do what we can, within reason, for those less fortunate.

Are you suggesting that I therefore had not just more luck but more right to a happy home than some unfortunate in an unstable environment?

Your reasoning implies the "unfortunate" has a right (which would trump your parents' mere "desire") to be placed in the stable environment of your household.

That's basically what the Open Borders argument comes down to--the poor have a claim on rich countries. Cognitive elites have the luxury of preaching about this because for them, open borders means they get to meet other high-IQ people from exotic places and the janitors are cheaper. Of course, somebody else has to live next door to the janitors and go to school with their kids, but that's not the cognitive elite's problem in their expensive redoubts.

When I lived in a neighborhood of largely Salavadoran manual laborers, I found them pleasant neighbors.

As drivers they are much more polite to spandex clad bicyclists than whites. Cultural biases at work.

When I say "within reason" I am recognizing some boundaries. But I definitely not comfortable with good fortune becoming a right to good fortune.

Except it's not just "good fortune." Your mom didn't smoke, drink or take drugs during pregnancy. Your parents saved money to provide for you. They in turn got a head start because of hard work by their parents, and on back.

The concept you're eluding is posterity. "America" didn't just spring up out of nowhere to the benefit of us here in the present today. It is the result of accrued capital over generations. That's how most people outside of deracinated America regard their country--an ancestral homeland. The idea that they don't have the right to such a place would be shocking, and fiercely resisted.

I agree, and another entire set of concepts that eludes the propaganda-drones of the pseudo-educated open-borders advocates is that mass immigration decreases homogeneity. And that degrades democracy. Democracy is proportional to homogeneity because with high homogeneity comes a high degree of shared interests. With a high degree of shared, common interests, it is easier for the majority to control the government. With heterogeneity comes a fragmented and diluted set of common, shared interests. Thus the majority is less able to hold its politicians accountable.
Then the elite, the plutocrats, the corporations control the government.

This is fundamental politics. Heterogeneity increases factions in the populace, and that leads to less unity, which means less control for the people.

This is why the elite, the leaders, the plutocrats, and CorpGovMedia all think mass immigration is the Holy Of Holies.

Well, as it happens my parents did those things and worked in inner city schools.

From the "family merit" perspective, the parents earned better prospects for the child. From the "individual merit" perspective, babies didn't earn anything, and circumstances are pure fortune.

Leftist conservative

I'm not sure that I understand your argument. It sounds to me like you're almost on the verge of saying that democracy works best when everyone already agrees. Who needs democracy then?

Are you saying that it's better to keep out anyone who is not like you because you feel threatened that their political perspectives will differ from your own?

I.e., I don't buy your argument that it's bad for democracy. It sounds to me like you want to keep everyone else out because you want everyone to be like you, and it's more likely for you to have a government that does what you want when everyone is like you.

Nathan W, there are countless examples of diversity eroding the quality of government as people divide into ethnic or religious identity groups. Ukraine is an obvious current example.

My children's births weren't accidents.

"How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in countries where their political or geographic institutions prevent them from making a living?" I think A.T. needs to change "their" into "the" here to better cover his tracks...

I think the open question of "do we need a revolution?" should always be on the table. It will quickly point to signs of injustice, thereby leading to solutions.

If no one ever dared to think like this, most of the people on this board would still be half-starved peons scratching away a living until their lords ordered them to charge into the boiling oil poured over the ramparts of the castle of the neighbouring lord's whose son slept with the daughter of your master.

Indeed, I do believe that government should fear the people more than vice versa.

Minor quibble: "Give me liberty, or give me death" was said by Patrick Henry, not Thomas Paine.

Thanks. Fixed.

And to think that a professor at a Commonwealth of Virginia institution of higher learning did not know that.

He has the excuse of being Canadian.

"How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in countries where their political or geographic institutions prevent them from making a living?" - because it is not accident of birth. Parents are responsible for society their children live in.

"Parents are responsible for society their children live in."

Considering how many of our parents and grandparents were immigrants themselves (mine were fleeing a fascist), and their sweat and blood are responsible for the society I live in, I'm not sure you're making the point you think you're making.

There are two points I wish to make: 1) it is more morally acceptable to try to fix bad society than to escape from it; 2) children are largely defined firstly by genetic and then by cultural inheritance of their parents. They are not born from vacuum and then randomly assigned to their parents. Society in which you are born to is result of choices of your parents and your ancestors just like material wealth that you inherit is.

Try explaining that to the citizens of northern Mali.

Petar: I get you 'Accidental Birth' Hypothesis, some Parent, Past and Present, are making decisions daily about their Children's future. Many, who are borne in a 'restrictive' environment, help them self and their Children prepare for a better life, this is why whole Societies, up root themselves and more 'Lock Stock and Barrel' to a Refuse Camp, sneak across closed boarder's etc. One such society are the Anasazi Jews, because they were 'outlier's' they were chased out of many Nations before they reestablished their own. (still under dispute). German's during and after WW2, large segments moved to the USA, Argentina, (Nazi running for their lives) USA; for Safety and Prosperity! E/W Germany, separated seems like forever, people died trying to escape to the West, for the same reasons; Safety, Opportunities for a Freer and better life. Why, Border's are controlled, "because to much of anything is bad!" Berlin Wall, was not to stop economic growth, it was to stop the 'Brain Drain' from escaping! Others, in our own country (USA) migrate across open border's of States; Wonder what would happen, if all the 'Shaker's and Mover's' moved into a central State, took all their Tools and Trade with them: image the Society left and the Society that gained. Could this happen, it already has; If the Native Tribes had better immigration rules, that they could have enforced, we would be a different Nation today; Better or Worst, can't philosophize on that because it has not happened, yet! Here is a Quote, that I think applies to these morals: "To Much of Anything is bad for You" plus "If you have to much to control and defend, you will lose it"! So, how does a City stop. "White Flight" they don't but they welcome other colors that produce what the Society that the 'Whites' fly to want or need! Just my opinion and Thank you for your Post! Dr. Gene~Landrum, Philosopher, of Quantum Science Theory of Everything! P.S. I don't tweet! To many Thoughts (bad for me) for so few words of a Tweet!

"Anasazi Jews?"

Who knew there were Jews living in pueblos in the Southwest many centuries ago? The lost tribes perhaps? :-)

Sorry to quibble, but it's a funny juxtaposition. What you want is "Ashkenazi" Jews, though Sephardic Jews were certainly expelled from countries - most famously Spain in 1492 - as well.

We think goy speak with forked tongue.

Is it moral to let developing countries lose people who are among the most proactive and skilled in their society? If agents of change leave, who will lead the change? It seems to me that moral argument for immigration is on very shaky grounds...

We will need a new title for this blog.

+1. Btw, the argument Tabarrok made here is the main reason I never liked the name of the blog.

The Open Borders dogma is way, way out into diminishing marginal returns, but economists have a hard time using their own concepts when it comes to thinking about immigration.

There are always two sides to coins like those.

Have you ever lived in another country for long time? What's the objective of defeating closed borders supporters? My expat experience of years and 2 countries: the path to success and happiness requires local population approval. That they see you as a productive guest, not a dangerous trespasser. Defeating closed borders supporters would only produce more street level backlash to immigrants. As an immigrant, what's the point of getting the right to live in another country if local population is going to hate you? A Pyrrhic victory?

Some immigrants are after happiness, not martyrdom.

That's a funny question to ask Alex.

Alex's high morals reminds me the situation that generated the #notyourrescueproject campaign:

If you care about an ideal open borders world, fight inspired in high morals. If you care about immigrants (real people), fight for actions that minimize immigrant backlash.

Complicate situation is that actions towards increased immigration, of course will increase immigration flux but at the price of increasing immigrant backlash by local population and viceversa. It's a delicate balance, careful when handling. For sure, tuning may be necessary, but a revolution is not optimal at all.

Alex cares far more about the people who don't get to be immigrants (also real people!).

First, in the US at least, even immigration opponents claim that they have no objection to legal immigrants, just illegals. With open borders, no immigrants would be illegal. Hence, we shouldn't expect an anti-immigrant backlash unless, of course, one believes that immigration opponents' arguments are largely disingenuous.

Second, open immigration is not forced immigration. Any immigrant that would arrive under open borders would be doing so voluntarily. Their revealed preference would be that the benefits from living in the host country would exceed the risk of negative effects from backlash. Thus, arguments that closed borders "protect" immigrants from backlash are also disingenuous. The gay marriage movement seems to have increased acceptance of gays, including in states that have not legalized gay marriage, rather than have created a backlash against gays.

Third, in terms of "local population approval", those who employ or lease or sell homes to immigrants clearly "approve" of those immigrants, again through their revealed preference. Closed borders are not a reflection of society's desired immigration levels. Rather, they are an over-ruling by government of society's desired immigration levels as (would otherwise be) revealed through markets.

In the US there's a fixed number of work permits per year, imagine an scenario where the employers/foreign employees controlled that number. How would the low status locals react to unlimited foreign worker permits? Right now, US people is relatively tolerant to legal immigration because mass illegal immigration aims for menial and agriculture jobs. Imagine the social tension in an scenario where auto manufacturers can hire cheaper mexicans in the assembly line. Mexicans already produce Hondas, Mazdas, VWs, Fords, Chevys and Dodge Rams, soon Audis and BMWs. If auto manufacturers in the US haven't got rid of expensive US workers yet is just for the limited work permits per year and fear of consumer backlash.

Buying a house is a false positive for local population approval. If you can buy a house in a nice neighborhood, you're wealthy enough to be liked anywhere in the world.

In Sweden there isn´t a fixed number of work permits, but there is a minimum monthly wage, 13 500 SEK (2 100 $). Anyone who isn´t deemed a security risk and who has a job offering with a salary of at least 13 500 SEK can immigrate to Sweden. This immigration law has been into place since 2008. The debate concerning the law is mainly about misuse. Immigrants and employers who collude in making up fake job offerings, employers who sell job offerings (with the added residence permit) and employers who change the terms of employment from the offering to the actual contract (since the offering isn´t a legally binding contract).

Swedish society is yet to disintegrate, but surely that is only a matter of time.

And this doesn't include roughly 500 million EU citizens who aren't Swedish, and who do not require permission to live in Sweden.

Though oddly enough, roughly 500 million of those EU citizens don't seem to have any interest in living in Sweden.


You should know that immigration is intensely controversial in Sweden and opposition is considerable. There is a very well researched web site that delves extensively into the topic. See "Super Economy" ( Conveniently (for you) its written (mostly) in Swedish. The author (himself an immigrant) provides a wealth of data showing that immigration and immigrants are failing in Sweden.

'You should know that immigration is intensely controversial in Sweden and opposition is considerable.'

And you should know that asylum is something that is not being considered in these discussions at all - especially because it would really bring morality into this issue in a way that has nothing to do with economics.


Swedish posturing on immigration will be credible when Sweden establishes Open Borders with China, Bangladesh, and Nigeria. Until then it's just ritual cant. Of course, Sweden isn't about to extend Open Borders to the poor of the third world. No country is really that crazy. Pretending to embrace Open Borders while rejecting them in practice, is just moral One-upmanship to maintain an arrogant illusion of superiority.

Call it "the supremacy of pretension".

In real life, Swedes (of all political persuasions including the local Open Borders crowd) have zero interest associating with the imported underclass. Segregation is the norm (just as it is everywhere).

Actually, you are ignoring the 800lb gorilla in the room: asylum seekers. A great many of immigrants to Sweden are not technically immigrants, but for all intensive purposes they are, since they have no intention of leaving. Asylum seekers arrive by the truckload and Sweden is obligated to consider each request, which rarely are denied, thanks to numerous legal tricks that everyone knows how to exploit. There are now cities like Malmo have "no-go" zones where it's dangerous for Swedes to enter, particularly females who are often subject to gang-rape..

The lesson here? Immigration is not good or bad in and of itself, but if you advocate open borders, then you take a chance that you aren't just going to attract the "good" immigratns and your society will change in ways you didn't predict.

Peter: I know that immigration is controversial in Sweden, but the controversial part is the asylum seekers and their subsequent family reunions. The law concerning work-permits isn´t controversial in the sense that people wants it rejected, even if many wants to limit the possibilities of misuse, for instance by making the job offering to a legally binding contract.
I´m well aware of Tino Sanandaji, but I have a hard time to share his perspective of immigration into Sweden. Sweden, as all of western Europe, is one of the wealtiest societies in the history of the world. Tino´s focus is the cost of immigration, and it boiles down to maybe something like the economical growth for one year. That is a comparison and a framing that I think is refreshing, but it´s far from Tino´s framing of the issue.

(13 500 SEK is a low but livable wage in Sweden. The wage makes you better off than a statesponsored universitystudent or someone living on the lowest state retirement plan but worse off than almost every full time employed worker.)

Does it occur to you that the Open Border advocates that make the argument:

"it’s immoral to actively interfere with someone’s right to pursue their own happiness, for example, by preventing them from accepting employment from a willing employer, simply due to the accident of their birth."

also believe you shouldn't interfere with the wage a willing employee will accept from a willing employer?

It does occur to me. I fully understand that the wage requirement is set at a level that is livable in most swedish eyes, meaning that it doesn´t require supplements in form of direct money transfers to appese our bleeding hearts for our countrymen, old or new. To reach that level requires a productivity that is unreachable for a substansial part of the people of the world, probably a majority.
I don´t think Sweden has had "open borders" since 2008, but I do think the law is a wise one. It enhances the freedom for those few who for some reason want to move to Sweden without significant drawbacks for us swedes. I don´t want Sweden to turn in to a shantytown, but I do want people all over the world to be able to choose where they want to live. Since I think those two are mutually exclusive for the time beeing I`m interested in policies that combines as much of these two as possible.

> First, in the US at least, even immigration opponents claim that they have no objection to legal immigrants, just illegals.

That's not remotely true. Look at the objections to H1B immigration, for example. It's pretty clear that there's more objection to illegal immigration, but the situation with legal immigration is complex.

The problem with H1B is the strings that go along with it prevent the holder of the visa from freely seeking work, so he/she has to work on the terms that the sponsoring employer provides. The real purpose of H1B visas is to drive down the wages of highly skilled workers. If Zuckerberg wants cheap programmers, let him outsource those jobs, not prevail on the US government to give him indentured servants.

I agree with some of this - the H1B program has real problems.

My point was just that BC's comment was preposterous.

The H visas, H-1B, H-2A, and H-2B, are no more immigration visas than are tourist visas. They are in law called non-immigrant visas. What they allow is the free flow of indentured labor into the US.

False. These are dual-intent visas, and allow the holder to apply for green cards. The TN (NAFTA) visas are non-immigrant intent, and become void if a holder applies for a green card through some other mechanism, much like a tourist visa.


"First, in the US at least, even immigration opponents claim that they have no objection to legal immigrants, just illegals"

Where did you get that idea? The number one political group opposing mass immigration is NumbersUSA. Their subtitle is "FOR LOWER IMMIGRATION LEVELS". Quote from 'About Us'.

"The key factor in immigration policy is choosing the right number of authorized immigrants for future years. To choose a lower number does not imply anything negative about the immigrants who already are legally in this country. We’re talking about the future number that is best for both U.S.-born and foreign-born citizens."

The number one research group opposing mass immigration is CIS (The Center for Immigration Studies). CIS publishes vast amounts of research on the adverse impact of legal immigration on the U.S. Mark Krikorian strongly favors large reductions in legal immigration.

The political focus on illegal immigration is a consequence of two things. Illegal means illegal. Illegally entering the United States and then making demands on the U.S. (jobs, welfare, language, racial quotas, etc.) rightfully bothers a great many people. Resistance to foreign invasion is a near universal theme of human history. However, the emphasis on illegality is also a proxy for something rarely stated, but very widely felt. The public recognizes that large scale unskilled immigration in a welfare state is a formula for disaster.

A quote from Peter Skerry (who is not part of the immigration control movement) should help.

"So, the debate over illegal immigration is seductively misleading. Were it possible to stop illegal immigration tomorrow, the concerns expressed by so many Americans—failure to learn English, job competition, fiscal demands and social disorder (putting aside for the moment their factual validity)—would remain largely unaddressed. In fact, because legal immigrants outnumber illegals about two to one, they are a greater source of such complaints. The real challenges here have less to do with the legal status of immigrants than with the social and cultural strains generated by the movement of large numbers of unskilled, poorly educated immigrants in and out of American neighborhoods. Nevertheless, virtually all participants in this debate share the same unexamined assumption: that legal immigration is uniformly benign, while illegal immigration is uniquely problematic.

What this suggests is that popular concerns about immigration are broader and deeper than any of us are prepared to acknowledge. This is because the dominant frame—“illegal immigrants bad, legal immigrants good”—serves the interests of skittish politicians and other elites of diverse perspectives, all of whom find in this simple dichotomy a relatively safe way to address a technically complex, emotionally charged issue they might otherwise prefer to avoid. "

There is no reason that legal immigration can't be at too high a level.

I am nice to everybody, period.

However, just because we allowed in a certain number of people in the past, or a certain type of person (e.g. brothers and sisters of American citizens and their families) does not necessarily mean we should continue to do that.

If the provisions of the Senate immigration bill became the law of the land, we'd be giving out over 3 million new green cards and work visas a year (up from 1.7 million under current law).

We don't even have 3 million net new jobs a year. We have tens of millions of unemployed and underemployed people.

I can guarantee you that if we did that people would realize soon enough that illegal immigration is not the only immigration problem that US had.

You are making an assumption that all revolutions succeed when in fact far more fail miserably and produce setbacks than actually succeed. The moral argument makes people feel high and mighty, but its not a recipe for success. Gay marriage has gained traction in this country because the barriers to its acceptance had already been crumbling for generations as they have in most of Europe. However, its hard to declare victory for the "revolution" when the success is so narrow since gay people in the rest of the world have more pressing concerns such as making sure they live through the day. When gay marriage comes to Russia or China or Latin America or any part of the muslim world, then maybe the revolution can be considered a success. The US and Europe were easy pickings.

The open borders argument is one that is far harder to win since society is far less amenable to the concept. There is good reason for that since open borders produce economic threats to the people within a successful country. Just this week Switzerland voted in a democratic election to impose tough new immigration restrictions. Gay marriage does not really threaten anyone's financial or physical well being. Open borders does (whether it should is another argument entirely) and people will fight against it in a way they would not against gay marriage. You may believe you have a powerful moral argument but those people who are worried about their children's future feel they have an equally powerful moral argument. Often losing a battle means the cause is set back years if not decades. Sometimes it makes sense to take incremental, tactical steps that get one closer to a goal without creating a backlash. For all of Thomas' grand words and moral authority, it was a great tactician, George Washington, who actually won the war for this country. He was greatly helped by the fact that our revolution was fought in our back yard and did not directly threaten the lives of the citizens in England. So scream "to the ramparts", but Cowen is closer to the truth than open border supporters are to victory.

Petar: I get you 'Accidental Birth' Hypothesis, some Parent, Past and Present, are making decisions daily about their Children's future. Many, who are borne in a 'restrictive' environment, help them self and their Children prepare for a better life, this is why whole Societies, up root themselves and more 'Lock Stock and Barrel' to a Refuse Camp, sneak across closed boarder's etc. One such society are the Anasazi Jews, because they were 'outlier's' they were chased out of many Nations before they reestablished their own. (still under dispute). German's during and after WW2, large segments moved to the USA, Argentina, (Nazi running for their lives) USA; for Safety and Prosperity! E/W Germany, separated seems like forever, people died trying to escape to the West, for the same reasons; Safety, Opportunities for a Freer and better life. Why, Border's are controlled, "because to much of anything is bad!" Berlin Wall, was not to stop economic growth, it was to stop the 'Brain Drain' from escaping! Others, in our own country (USA) migrate across open border's of States; Wonder what would happen, if all the 'Shaker's and Mover's' moved into a central State, took all their Tools and Trade with them: image the Society left and the Society that gained. Could this happen, it already has; If the Native Tribes had better immigration rules, that they could have enforced, we would be a different Nation today; Better or Worst, can't philosophize on that because it has not happened, yet! Here is a Quote, that I think applies to these morals: "To Much of Anything is bad for You" plus "If you have to much to control and defend, you will lose it"! So, how does a City stop. "White Flight" they don't but they welcome other colors that produce what the Society that the 'Whites' fly to want or need! Just my opinion and Thank you for your Post! Dr. Gene~Landrum, Philosopher, of Quantum Science Theory of Everything! P.S. I don't tweet! To many Thoughts (bad for me) for so few words of a Tweet!

Gay marriage has come to Argentina and Uruguay, both Latn American countries of some note.

Why do they need to cross borders? You can make them American citizens right now and let them vote in your elections. People shouldn't be unable to vote simply because of the mere accident of birth.

Indeed. Or, to go a bit further, as I did when I debated the issue with Pr. Kimball, this is a recipe for justifying invasion, killing their leaders and converting them to Christianity... White Man Burden, redux.

Personally, I am a lot less pro-immigration (see here: ), even if I fully acknowledge the 'accident of birth' thingy. But then can it be fair that I wasn't born the son of Bill Gates?

Small missing word "they" in one of the last sentences, BUT I LOVE IT. Alex, you are at your best, when you are succinct and clear AND HAVE THE MORAL HIGH GROUND. You are all of that in spades here. Thank you for this post.

How can you have the MORAL HIGH GROUND if you are deliberitely importing the conditons of a bloody civil war? Deliberately recreating Yugoslavia in dozens of formerly cohesive, stable, peaceful countries where civil war was hitherto unfathomable? HOW IS THAT'MORAL'?

No, Jon R, madness is not the moral high ground.

The difference between open borders and abolitionism or gay marriage is that one side is making arguments of "look at the bad effects of limited open borders" that are persuasive to people in the middle and that the other side have to counter with practical arguments, whereas not as many people find persuasive arguments of "look at the bad effects when we let some slaves free/some gays marry". The open borders side has to strike a balance between moral and practical arguments; too much moral argument allows the other side to portray them as ivory tower academics who don't care about the lives of the poor people who are affected. It's only by making practical arguments that people will be persuaded by the moral one.

Since, the American Dream has been call an experiment: I want to Philosophize an Experiment, dealing with Humans who are currently 'Outliers' to Main Stream Society: Homosexuals, Etc. as a society in them selves. Lets open our boarders, only to (no families, no techies, etc.) 'Gay's' of the World, for Humanitarian Reasons (Russia, life imprisonment, other places death) give them asylum, for these reason's, the USA and other Nations already do! Let them in, and they will form their own Societies, of Like minded people! At the end of this Social Engineering Experiment, say two decades, then see if they survive or fail. Give them a chance like Utah (should have been called Mormon Land) gave the 'Outlier's' of their time; Mormon's! Seems, to me, this segment of Later Day Society has done quit well for themselves and out Nation! Some Native Tribes have also, because the Experiment of the Government trying to eliminate (and were successful, in some cases, for Moral reasons) they have survived as a 'Society/Nations' and are doing quite well, with duel citizenship! (American Native Nations, have bounders not established by the tribe,: that are somewhat open to travel in, as long as you are respectful of their Laws and Traditions/customs, as it should be in all States of our Nations) , I submit my opinions and thoughts to this discussion and/or debate over Open Boarders! Moral or Immoral? Respectfully:

Dr. Gene~Landrum, Philosopher of Quantum Science Theory of Everything. "Here is a Moral Question: How many 'Races' are on this Planet called Earth?" "After your answer, answer this Moral Question: "How Many God(s) are on this Planet?" Last but not least: "How many different Religions? I think this little experiment on Morals will open Eyes, Dead or Alvie!

Why don't the Muslims banning homosexuality have the moral high ground? They are following the Koran after all. How can you have the moral high ground if you have no objective moral system?

You are correct that the "moral high ground" is largely subjective. In the US, though, personal choice and freedom usually are associated with the moral high ground, i.e., the American "moral system" generally favors individual choice over government power, centralization, collectivism, etc. (By the way, individual choice in the immigration context applies not only to immigrants' choices but also to the freedom of domestic employers, landlords and home sellers, and anyone else that wishes to conduct voluntary transactions with immigrants.) The Left might represent an exception to this American preference for liberty, but the Left seems generally supportive of more open immigration. Thus, immigration opposition stems mainly from the Right's failure to adhere to their own professed Limited Government, individualist, anti-collectivist principles.* It's in that sense that the open borders movement holds the moral high ground. One could draw a parallel to the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s and 1960s, which also did not so much seek a change in American morals as it sought to make Americans live up to the morals they already had.

*By the way, I don't mean to single out the Right for hypocrisy. The failure to live up to one's own morals 100% of the time seems to be a universally human trait.

From an individualist perspective, there is no right to immigrate. All movement off your own property would require the permission of adjacent owners.

How is it moral to deliberately create conditions for a violent civil war in a formerly peaceful and stable country? It's beyond evil.

Everyone thinks they have the moral high ground, including your opponents and more people agree with them than you, so I am not sure how much of a victory that claim is. Counting the number of moral frameworks that hold X is less important than how many people actually believe X. And, one should be careful appropriating the "accident of birth" logic, as it holds equally well, if not better, against private property, which is where it originated I believe..

Opinions (and ethics) are like toothbrushes; everyone has one, nobody likes to use anyone else's.

Alex may win a battle or two with his moral high ground and Shakespearean polarity, but Tyler wins the war. The trend in human evolution is towards gradual marginal solutions and generally towards redistribution Big Government rather than breakthrough solutions. This is because throughout human history the innovator, who is a tiny component of any population, gets free riders who will eat from the innovator's labor, akin to: "Who is John Galt?" Eventually it becomes far safer and more profitable to be a free rider or a rent seeker than a true innovator, except for those diehard Good Samaritan idealist inventors who invent for the sake of doing good.

So John Galt does not win, anymore than the trillion dollar bills lying of the sidewalk of open borders fail to get picked up. The rent seekers win. I win (I'm a DC landlord). Big Brother wins. And, like the last sentence of Orwell's "1984", you'll learn to like it.

The market democracies succeeded by making most people a mix of producer and free rider. I developed medical electronics, Medicare used them. Who rode whom?

@JP- you could ague that Medicare actually reduces the demand for the medical electronics you developed, since sometimes Medicare will refuse to fund promising technologies (I've seen it happen). Big Government is a double edged sword, and mostly it cuts the wrong way it seems to me, but the people want it, like they want closed borders.

I was going to say the same thing!

Except that I find the open boarders position the immoral one. The day a tenured Economics faculty member opens up their job, home, and their children's school to unrestricted "freedom of moment" to anyone in the world then I'll start taking their moral blather seriously.

So, you're saying that if Alex's job specifically were opened up to an immigrant, say from Canada, then you would drop all opposition to immigration? Great. I guess we should have opened up the borders a long time ago.

Yes, I think we should do an experiment where we try open boarders for the economics profession, complete with a host of affirmative action laws to protect foreign "economics" and which remove all tenure. After we've tried that experiment for a few years, then we can revisit all those Economics blow-hards and see what their opinion on the subject is.

What kills me is that the economics profession, which can't seem to predict much of anything with any accuracy at all, is making massive society wide decades long predictions about the effects of open boarders. Moreover, they're personally sheltered from the consequences of those policies.

So my question is: how moral is it for an incompetent professional class, with no skin in the game, to play with other peoples lives like that?

I'm fond of saying that economics is a lot closer to tarot card reading than science. It seems to be a dumping ground for moralists with some math skills. It is not an accident that the whole racket works to provide the over class with debating points. In another age, the priests told the people the gods were on the side of the king. Today, economist tell the people the maths are on the side of the pseudo-meritocracy.


You are ignoring the argument. Joseph said

"The day a tenured Economics faculty member opens up their job, home, and their children’s school to unrestricted “freedom of moment” to anyone in the world then I’ll start taking their moral blather seriously"

This is exactly the point. The Open Borders crowd loves immigration when they can profit from it. When it gets personal (homes and schools) they turn into rabid restrictions.

The "High Moral Group" is just posturing for personal gain.

Also, I have three naturalized citizens in my immediate family. Being slandered by a bunch of preening ivory tower highly sheltered children for having some common sense about immigration is not a practical way to win my vote. It's had the extreme opposite effect on me.

I am an immigrant. I'm generally pro-immigration. I find the open borders crowd frightening.

I don't see the open borders moral argument. When I vote for people to run the country I want them to run it in my interest and not somebody else's.

I can't tell if the tenured faculty types who have nothing to lose from immigration/globalization realize that their status makes them uniquely unpersuasive on the question of open borders. They certainly don't seem to be aware.

I can't tell if people that think tenured faculty types are "protected" from immigration realize just how open immigration is for tenured faculty jobs. Universities can and do hire faculty from just about anywhere in the world. If immigration for people of all occupations were as open, but no more so, than that of tenure-track faculty, then I think immigration proponents would be ecstatic.

BC, they don't need to be protected from immigration because they have a guild that highly restricts access to such jobs.

I don't find this a particularly effective criticism. What are they supposed to do about it? They can't argue anything at odds with tenure and government funded universities until they solve that problem first? I went to public schools. Am I not allowed to criticize government?

Now, Caplan's bubble argument, that's damning evidence that he really isn't trying to convince people of what's in their best interest. But that's another thing altogether.

I realize that it's logically possible to argue from a position of having X that others should not have X (like lifetime professional tenure if you arguing for global competition among unskilled laborers, a mansion if you are arguing for reducing carbon emissions, or kids in private school if you are arguing against school vouchers), but It is a harder sell. The messenger does matter.

You're basically saying that professors can't talk about immigration unless they're against it, which is ridiculous.

I think Caplan, for example, is way off base on this topic, and frankly quite scary. But the fact that he has tenure doesn't matter for that. It's a small point, and making it makes it seem like you're more interested in superficial appearances than substance. I'm not saying that's true about you at all, but that's the way it comes off.

They can talk about whatever they want, but they can't take the moral high ground on it unless they actually have the high ground.

Out of curiosity: is there any policy of extreme wealth redistribution that couldn't be justified using the logic of this post?

@ Joseph : you mean the inverse of this logic, because according to theory closed borders favors those inside the border at the expense of everybody outside. Put another way, there's a hungry Indian teenager that would love to do you job at a fraction of the price and 90% of the quality, and there would be a lot of people happy with this teenager's work product, but closed borders prevents this transaction from happening.

So not giving your job to the teenager is the same as taking something from him? I take your answer to mean "there is no proposal for extreme wealth redistribution that couldn't b justified using this logic".

I'm going to start moral crusade whose goal is to ensure all Economics Professors are paid the median world income ($2 a day or whatever it is). Anything else is an evil sin. Who's with me?

"So not giving your job to the teenager is the same as taking something from him?"

If by "not giving your job" you mean preventing your employer from voluntarily hiring him then, yes, you are taking something from him, just as we would be taking from you if we banned employers from hiring you.

A moral crusade to limit economics professors compensation is the *closed* borders position, the one that arises from empowering governments to limit voluntary economic activity. The *open* borders position is the one that advocates letting markets determine things like economics professors' pay and hiring of immigrants.

Uh no it isn't. Employers can build factories in India and hire all the indian teenagers they want. Best wishes to them. What the hell does that have to with us being picky about which Indians we admit to the US? What the hell does that have to do with how we Americans want OUR country to be in the future?

Closed borders don't prevent that from happening. There is nothing stopping Indians from employing hungry Indian teenagers at low wages to generate highly profitable goods and services to sell to the rest of the world. In fact, I think that already happens.

What you're actually promoting is that US employers ought to be able to capture those profits instead of Indian employers. And since we have loads of public infrastructure and civil rights laws, then the friction and expense associated with the transaction gets socialized and the employer gets the profits.

It's actually a kind of reverse-imperialism. Once upon a time, the English and Europeans went out to conquer the wogs and extract resources from them in their lands. Now they import the wogs and extract the higher margins here.

Bottom line: America is our property. We as Americans either have the right to control that property as we see fit or we don't. If the arugment in the post is correct, and it's immporal for us to dispose of America's future according to our wishes, then why doesn't this apply to every other property right out there?

How come "open boarders' is moral for America, but immoral for Caplan's house?

Also, why are under an obligation to level accidents of geographic birth, but not under an obligation to level all consequence of the accidents of intelligence and perseverance?

Both in principle and in practice, this is the suicide of Liberty.

Allowing a person to freely travel from one country to the next is a lot different than coming up with a currently nonexistent effective social engineering scheme of 'leveling outcomes caused by differing character'. Most people would agree that you cannot make a Downs Syndrome sufferer smart and able enough to become a neuroscientist. But if a family is under threat of genocide in a foreign country, most people would agree that if they were given a plane ticket to another country they would no longer be under the threat of genocide.

It's telling that no one on the open borders side has any credible answers for your excellent points, Joseph.

I don't own other Americans property. If my neighbor wants to sell their house, I don't have a right to say who they're allowed to sell their house to. If borders are opened I still can call the police and have immigrants arrested for trespassing if they're on my property.

Brenton, that thing that just soared over your head? That was Joseph's point.

Using the logic of the post you the redistribution of wealth becomes the moral outcome if there is no prospects for for future economic growth. If you argue, as I assume many would, that redistribution is harmful to the overall growth of the economy then redistribution is not necessarily the most moral outcome.

However, if economic growth is already stalled or if the growth only accrues to a limited group then redistribution is a moral outcome. This is why those opposed to redistribution should be worried about the stagnant wages of the majority of Americans.

If economic growth only benefits a small group then hurting economic growth for the benefit of a larger group can become a moral outcome because it would enhance the lives of more people.

Of course once the level of redistribution actually causes an economy to shrink then it should be reigned in as an immoral outcome.

I am sympathetic to both open borders and redistribution in general.

We will go to the barricades for efficiency with you.

Peter and the folks at Wikipolicy

LOL at this heady rhetoric of people willing to fight and die so they can have more African and Latino neighbors.

LOL right back. First, this was a joke in relation to Alex stating "No one goes to the barricades for efficiency." So glad you laughed, but sad you laughed for the wrong reason. Why would you fight and die for efficiency? (Notice, you're the one who changed my quote from efficiency to a rather biased reading of immigration, and from go to the barricades to "fight and die.")

Second, have you seen any of the studies about the massive welfare gains from more immigration? I think Open Borders is utopian, but more efficiency and productivity are worth fighting for, especially when they are channeled toward maximizing human happiness. Higher levels of immigration are very, very likely big gains for human happiness and the American economy and future. Maybe not free, but ridiculously cheap and delicious lunches. How many more mission trips are we going to send abroad to build homes before we start allowing some of those people to come and inhabit crumbling and vacant homes throughout the Midwest? So I support more open borders, even if Open Borders is utopian.

Finally, why did you choose only African and Latino neighbors? Seems weird to pick them out. I'm glad America was so open when my German ancestors came over, despite those who denigrated them as Huns and Papists in rhetoric and reaction very similar to the way some people would denigrate groups from Africa or Latin America today. My girlfriend is from India, and the one big win in immigration is to open up to more terrifying waves of software engineers from India. You've left out a rather large subcontinent, among many, many others.

Spare a LOL for your quick misreading, and bizarre restatement. Maybe you'll be laughing for the right reasons then.

Why do you think that increased immigration in the future will be so beneficial?

We have lost jobs by the millions due to technology and the experts say that trend will continue. The experts seem unable to name a single field in the private sector (unrelated to healthcare) in which large numbers of good paying, full time jobs with benefits will be created in the next 10-20 years.

If we legalize the illegal immigrant we have already and their ovreseas spouses and children come, that will give us tens of millions of new people in our legal workforce.

How many people do we need? We are already on track to going from about 315 million people today to 400 million by around 2050. 500 million's next and it won't be too long in coming, although few living today will be here to see it.

This is a very very long term game.

Jobs have been lost to technology. Technology creates jobs. Which has greater effect? What is the distribution of the effects across society? What are the long term effects? Does immigration spur or deter technological innovation?

Why does it have to be one or the other? If you want to shift the political center you clearly need both.
The lunatic fringe like yourself coming balls out swinging no matter how repugnant the sight is to sane people. Then the moderate politician like Tyler who's able to negotiate to keep you zipped up for 6 days a week as a compromise. Do this a couple of times and you can let it swing freely on your moral high ground in no time.

This is the second time this week I've seen open borders immigration advocacy compared with abolishionism.. Its stupid to think that we'd still have slavery without abolitionism and the Civil War.

I suppose you're arguing that citizens don't in fact "own" their country because it is, after all, just a geographical lottery. An accident of birth.

So why stop there? Some people are born in nice homes with two parents and adequate savings. Shouldn't the the less fortunate be allowed to step through the open door and enjoy that home too.

I don't have a successful blog. Can I help run on this one?

lax immigration doesn't mean private property rights won't and cannot be enforced. The Heritage & Cato institutes have produced compelling research showing how immigration is not only compatible with the ownership society, but will lead to more economic growth.
Here, for example, is a 2008 paper calling for more H-1B visas on the grounds they will lead to more jobs and faster economic growth. Reform that will increase the cap on H1-B visas will have a net positive effect on the economy.

Breaking windows increases GDP too.

But what happens to govt spending? And how do immigrants vote with regards to more or less govt spending?

Visas for high skilled immigrants are a smart idea, as are income thresholds, job offers and other variables.

But open borders and indeed current immigration reform proposals are a different matter in that it would mostly be the enfranchisement of the rural and unskilled poor.

Ummm, H-1B Visas are high skilled immigrants. Evidence that increased high skilled immigration will lead to higher per capita economic growth does not imply that Open Borders policies, which implies massive low skilled immigration, will lead to higher per capita economic growth.

What do Heritage & Cato say to the idea that 200 million people could move here under your open borders scheme and just take your property away from you by force? It's not exactly an unknown idea in many of the countries where they would hail from.

"lax immigration doesn’t mean private property rights won’t and cannot be enforced."

No, Alex's "moral" argument means they shouldn't be enforced, however.

And while we're at it, let's have open universities. Why should someone get to be a professor with tenure and be protected from competition for the rest of his working life when there are many others who would like to, and could, do the job. Why is competition only good for other people's jobs?

Yes. Furthermore, how can we allow the unethical practice of university admission requirements to continue?!

George Mason University should drop its admissions requirements and throw open the doors to every lecture hall with even a single empty chair. Any person who thinks he/she would benefit from attending a George Mason University lecture should be welcomed.

Class prerequisites should also be eliminated. Professor permission to join a class should no longer be allowed. Every class should be open to every student. (e.g. Bryan Caplan's Econ 918 class (Monetary Economics) should welcome all students, regardless of their background knowledge, etc.)

An ineffective immigration policy didn't do much to further native American society. That's a fact that people alive today can easily observe. Convincing thinking Americans that a flood of the ignorant and superstitious washing over the landscape will improve their lives isn't an easy task, either.

'Indeed, most moral frameworks (libertarian, utilitarian, egalitarian, and others) strongly favor open borders or find it difficult to justify restrictions on freedom of movement.'

Such succinct support for the EU is rare to find.

The EU doesn't have unrestricted immigration from outside of the EU. And the US has less restrictions on freedom of movement internally that the EU does. So, your comment seems pointless in context.

The cynic in me doesn't think morality moves people. I rely on a model where people calculate with low reasons but like to talk about their high reasons. The North may claim they fought for freedom, but they also happened to keep the South.

A prediction of this model is that the low reasons need to make sense for the high reasons to be accepted. It isn't enough to show that immigration increases total efficiency. You need to show it increases marginal efficiency for all for any sort of revolution to occur.

That's an argument where you need to do a lot of work, in my opinion. Econ 1001 taught me that there were winners and losers to trade, that increasing supply lowered price and the world was pulled toward the law of one price. Some Americans will be hurt, and they will not go to the barricades, even if total efficiency increases. They will see you moral pleading as a trap.

Don't forget to discuss the non-economic utilitarian cases. Do you believe social cohesion is important? To pick an overly narrow example, wouldn't it be better to have young Americans study Adam Smith rather than learning to speak Spanish? Culture is important, and a culture will not support a change that destroys itself. Let in too many immigrants at once and the assimilation happens backwards. Immigration shouldn't happen at a rate where the culture that is being fled from supersedes the culture that is drawing people in.

Perhaps I'm a man who is particularly unmoved by moral arguments, but I find your case for open borders naive and unpersuasive, and the title of this blog preferable.

I'm not sure that I understand your free trade example. Hasn't the free trade "side" basically won over the last 30+ years? Granted, we still hear anti-trade voices, but hasn't the last 30 years seen basically an unstoppable march towards more trade and globalization? Now, one could say that the march has been incremental and marginal. However, throughout the entire period, free trade advocates have basically advocated for "open trade", and I think it's hard to argue that such advocacy was not an essential component in winning the trade policy war, even if the policy victories were won in a marginal fashion. Far from scaring people that were undecided about trade, the open trade advocates built the case for free trade that reassured the undecideds that the marginally freer trade policies were steps in the right, rather than wrong, direction.

Historical note in passing: after taking advantage of the French Republic's open border policy, Tom Paine found himself duly imprisoned in short order and came remarkably close to receiving a close fraternal shave from his revolutionary confreres. (To some minds, then and now, a distinct pity that Paine was not guillotined.)

One reason I voted for Romney is because more visas for high skilled workers would help the economy. The welfare left and paleoright have a lot in common in that they want to preserve obsolete jobs & industries and old way of living at the cost of technological and economic advancement. This where Murray Rothbard had to split ideological ties with Patt Buchanan. Immigration reform is viable is it's combined with comprehensive entitlement reform. Things like the minimum wage creates economic pressure for companies to hire immigrants. Someone should tell Krugman that if he wants higher labor force participation he should oppose raising the minimum wage.

So you want to get rid of tens of millions of those pesky old jobs and cut benefits too.

So what are youir plans to the tens of millions of chronic unemployed?

How do you plan to make life affordable for the millions of extra Americans who will be making the deliberately low minimum wage you advocate? Are you going to make theri rents and mortages $100 or $200 a month?

Immigration is one of those areas where all the supposedly gimlet-eyed, rational economists suddenly become moist-eyed activists with categorical imperatives: "We can because we ought!"

Alex is making this argument because immigration costs can still be socialized to the level where the benefits (cheaper lawn care) are not enough to affect him personally (paying kidnap-insurance premiums on his family members). If somebody proposed transforming Alex's neighborhood into high-density housing to accommodate an influx of Somali tribesmen ("we can because we ought!"), you can bet he'd find some moral and practical arguments against it. He'd argue, quite rightly, that this is an exogenous, involuntary assault on his property values. Unrestricted immigration does the same thing to the national stock. Switzerland is valuable because it's the land of the Swiss; when it's the land of everybody, it's no longer Switzerland and perforce no longer valuable.

Open borders are just a socialist tragedy of the commons. Take away the State's public infrastructure, due process and civil rights laws and suddenly everybody's just an owner, tenant or trespasser. You want to bring over your army of cheap strawberry pickers from El Salvador, then you negotiate the easements, provide the housing, screen for MS-13 membership, waste disposal, etc.

Heed what cognitive elites like Tabarrok and Caplan do, not what they say. Publicly, they espouse open borders. Privately, they carve out elaborate sinecures for themselves and their families with high barriers to entry. Caplan even goes so far as to publicly brag about the Bubble he's carved out for himself. There's nothing wrong with this. Fraternal and familial associations are valuable tools for knocking off some of the sharp corners of life for their members. But to do that for your high-g cohort and deny it to folks lower down the totem pole is not the moral high ground.

Ugh. Let's try this again: "...where the benefits (cheaper lawn care) still accrue and the costs (paying kidnap-insurance premiums on his family members) are not at a point where they affect him personally."

What about the immediate practical consequences of a proposal like this? There are many more poor people in poor countries than rich people in rich countries. If borders were opened tomorrow, many of the poor would immigrate to rich countries immediately. Over the course of a very few years, immigrant numbers could easily become very large relative to the initial population. How well would basic infrastructure like sewers, electrical grids, housing, roads, and hospitals, and social services like schools, medical care, and welfare accommodate say a sudden doubling or tripling of the population?

Over the longer term, are 'good' institutions stable to sudden large changes in demographics? Suppose Norway opens its doors. Is it possible that the resulting rapid influx of people would result in a country with a population which by culture, education, and values bore little resemblance to the Norway of today? Is it conceivable that perhaps Norway's institutions would as a consequence change over time, possibly for the worse? Are these legitimate concerns or it silly to even consider these questions?

More generally, is there an 'optimal' rate of immigration (which may depend on 'moral framework'), or, because this is a question of moral absolutes, of good vs evil, is there no rate beyond which some of the possible drawbacks of rapid and massive movements of people around the globe becomes problematic?

In general, the poorest of the poor don't have the financial wherewithal to emigrate anywhere. They're stuck where they're at unless some altruistic organization like the Lutheran church is willing to ship them in and instruct them on how to tap the welfare system, at least until their predecessors take over that educational role.

I don't know. There are lots of excellent, heartbreaking movies about the travails of the poorest of the poor who manage to get to illegally get Europe from Africa or the Mideast despite relatively tight border controls. If Europe were to adopt Alex's moral imperative tomorrow and throw open its borders, I could easily imagine hundreds of millions of desperate and blameless Egyptians, Syrians, Algerians, and sub-Saharan Africans making the short journey across the Mediterranean from Africa to Europe. Whether this experiment would turn out well for the current residents of Europe, I'm not sure. Alex has evidently written a paper proving that in all standard moral frameworks, immigration is beneficial, but for his empirical data he must have relied on the effects of the kind of modest and controlled immigration that is now standard in almost all countries. I am unaware of any rich country that in recent times has adopted an open borders policy of the kind that Alex believes is morally requisite, but it would undoubtedly be extremely interesting to see how things play out if a country did decide to truly open its borders in this way. Personally, and I hope I do not appear unduly evil writing this, I would prefer to watch this trial run from a safe distance and see the effects on another country before the experiment was tried in my own. I truly believe scale and rate are important. Alex seems to believe that benefits are somehow scale and rate invariant - that the size of a country's current population relative to the size of the potential immigrant pool and the rate at which immigrants immigrate don't matter, but this seems rather implausible.

The poorest of the poor don't have $2 to rub together to get to the next town. Those documentaries are about poor people, but rest assured, they are not the poorest of the poor.

This is ignoring the fact that foreign governments would leap at the possibility of exporting excess population to the now open borders US. You think Aeromexico couldn't be persuaded to operate flee flights into LAX, Ohare and JFK. China currently spends a ton of money trying to infiltrate the US's defense and technology sectors. Don't you think they wouldn't happily chip 20000 or so dollars to a perspective emigrant family on the condition that their children become assets for Chinese intelligence. If that seems to far fetched consider how helpful the Mexican government is in assisting Mexican nationals trying to illegally enter the US and that despite the fact that their behavior is a blatant violation of national sovereignty think they might be even more willing to help if the US government adopted open borders. Indeed, geopolitical rivals would likely help African and other third world resident immigrate to the US solely in hopes of generating instability and chaos.

I know if I were arguing a position unabashedly supported by all the worlds leaders who'd rather outsource their excess population than make necessary and humane reforms I'd definitely wonder just how moral my position was.

I love this, and I love the quote that opens your book "Entrepreneurial Economics." Steven Landsburg makes the same point in his book "Fair Play." I think it's correct. Rights revolutions suddenly "happen," sometimes with a speed that astonishes even the reformers. They happen because it becomes blindingly obvious that the revolutionaries occupy the moral high-ground, not because the cost-benefit analysis converts gradually more and more people. I think it's a mutual knowledge effect. At some point everyone knows that the status quo is wicked, but nobody realizes that everybody else knows it. At some point everybody knows, and everybody knows that everybody knows, and everybody knows that everybody knows that everybody knows, ad infinitum.
For efficiency!

"No one goes to the barricades for efficiency. For liberty, equality or fraternity, perhaps, but never for efficiency."
So many economists miss this point so completely! Thanks for this post, Alex.

I attended a lecture by Chuck Mansky this Fall where he was proposing that we randomize tax policy for the sake of learning which rates are most efficient. And his defense of this RADICAL proposal was something along the lines of "well it sounds like a good idea if we want efficiency". Economists complain all the time that the simple policy lessons we have learned are never followed, but few of them understand that we never made a convincing case for them.
I love the legend of establishment of the Spartan constitution by Lycurgus for this reason. It just shows how much sacrifice and dedication is required to change institutions.

Economics has no morals. Discussing an economic question wearing a moral ask is the worst sort of misdirection. Immigrants also bring their own values and cultural values. I would suggest asking on the rez what the inhabitants there think of the morality of open borders.

You cannot separate morals from the field. First, the field is preoccupied from building block #1 to utility, borne of a certain moral perspective. Second, the 'heros' of both the right and the left in economic history, theory and analysis were very much preoccupied with moral questions (Adam Smith and Karl Marx). Third, quantitative economic analysis always produces results which need to be interpreted, and that interpretation carries moral questions because it essentially makes arguments about who is some situation or how things are/would change for different groups.

In my opinion, anyone who tries to tell you that there is no morals in a field either a) tends to find that the outcomes of whatever 'mainstream' is in the field at the time benefit them and therefore like to think that the analytical output are purely subjective, or b) does not accept that methods are highly variegated and always matter and that people tend to prefer methods which lead to outcomes which they are predisposed to.

Even in physics or biomedicine, you have to interpret things, and the words you choose in your interpretation can be used in an effort to influence world views or perspectives on who should get access to what kinds of services.

The amoral, in my opinion, is largely a myth when it comes to any scientific research, whether in the social or natural sciences.

A rock is amoral. It is there. It is not good or bad. Until I pick it up. Then I can do good things (make a tool) or bad things (hit someone over the head) with it.

Economic questions cannot be reasonably posed while pretending that the field itself, its diverse methods and the people doing the heavy numerical or interpretive lifting, do not have moral ramifications and are not guided by their own moral perspectives.

"the mere accident of birth"

That argument is so silly. And funny, cause you dont apply that to anything else you believe in.

Why dont you tell us about your ideas on inheritance in general. When my parents dies, who should get their house?
Clearly the people on the moral highground like Alex and Caplan must believe that the goverment should have it. If I get it, clearle then it is unfair to the rest of you since it is then all due to the accident of birth.

And maybe we should debate the implicit racist argument in calling people "improsened in countries" - as if they dont have any opportunities (or responsibilities) for changing thing. You know, unlike the white people who can create free socities. Indeed most do moral frameworks considers borders and hence immigration control complete legitimate.

Clearly the moral highground - and I think all classical liberal minded people should endorse that - supports the idea that the people who have created decent societies with valuable institutions, do have the right to protect this from strangers whom they consider to to have negative consequences for society.
The rights of travelling opportunist who dosn't want to take responsibility for changing their "imprisoned contrymen" in their own country are not more important than the property rights of people who have settled down and wants to protect what they have created.

Exactly! If where you are born is “the mere accident of birth” that should be corrected, isn't inheritance of material wealth also “the mere accident of birth” that should be corrected? I think that Alex probably holds two contradictory beliefs...

Open borders is the most immoral and selfish mainstream policy I can possibly think of, and its modern proponents some of the worst people in the first world alive today.

Indeed. Countries like France, Britain and Sweden are inevitably headed for bloody confrontations in the not too distant future, because of their unwise immigration policies. Three countries that were formerly stable, prosperous and peaceful erupting into vicious civil conflict because of an unworkable ideological stupidity hatched by taxpayer-funded, tenured univeristy professors and power-hungry politicians greedy for imported vote blocks. .

When these civil wars start in Europe, I hope that the open borders extremists are held to account for their criminally cruel, immoral, and stupid actions. IMHO, nothing less than capital punishment would fit their crimes.

What if open borders makes the destinations more like the places where they came from? Little Italy sounds quaint (it probably wasn't). Little Somalia, or Little Gaza would be less so. What if they aren't little anymore?

Then fanatics like Alex will move to a bunker higher up on the hill. Neo-fuedalists are banking on the walls keeping the riff-raff out of their little slice of heaven. Too bad for you though.

We won't let them move into their bunkers. They will be sought out for due process and punishment, once the civil wars are over.

You mean "closed borders ..."

We meant that as a reply to asdf

No, I think you read it right the first time. And I second his opinion.

As I wrote on my award winning blog, open borders is a religion. At least Alex is owning up to it. Debating a fanatic is a pointless exercise. Good luck with your revolution chief.

Republican proponents of immigration reform don't literally want open borders. Hence the word 'reform', or to improve the system.

Trying to take the moral high ground ruins debate and makes you blind to costs. It leads to loud and annoying self righteousness. It also can make you inhumane to the losers in your imagined revolution: what do you owe to immoral bigots?

>>what do you owe to immoral bigots?<<

Zero. They will have been murdered long before that becomes an issue. Enemies of the revolution and all that.

It's funny how libertarians end up at the same spot as the other utopian cults.

The prisoner metaphor is lame. By redefining what it means to be a prisoner on ability to enter, instead of ability to leave, you invalidate the concept of property.

The moral_framework_count argument is also silly. If I create a moral framework generating bot that randomly generates N frameworks, all of which claim "X is moral", then "X is moral" would become true, or more likely, as N exceeds M, where M is the set of all frameworks that claim "Not X". That would be true, based on the implied logic, even if all people extant or not subscribed to some framework in M.

I think most people understand the moral framework count argument to be a people count argument. But I like your logic.

Well, I'm convinced and ready to join the revolution.

Any less developed country that doesn't allow completely free movement of western goods, investment and settlement of people simply has to be overthrown and put under an open borders colonial administration. It is our altruistic duty to do them this favor. The world is my country and to do good is my religion.

All those liberals who claimed Reagan was going to blow up the world with nuclear war were just anti-open border bigots. In fact Reagan by not attacking the emigration forbidding soviets with nuclear missiles was just a pro-border bigot too.

That's not so completely off the mark of what's already been done in recent decades.

And you should think through the effects of gargantuan American subsidies for farmers before you talk about free movement of goods in less developed countries. The US, EU and Japan are the main obstacles to continuing to reduce barriers to free trade, by refusing to establish a fair market situation for agricultural goods produced without subsidies in less developed countries.

Ending farmer subsidies in the USA and EU would probably do more for the world's poorest than the entire development budgets of all governments in the world (citation needed), and would certainly do more for them in the medium run than open borders.

What a mess. Serves you right for attempting this 'moral crusade' frame Alex. Your examples themselves (anti-slavery, gay rights) are movements measured in decades or longer.

Little by little.

How about "no borders?" How long do you think it would be before people started drawing their own? Or do the Jacobins already have plans for such people?

That insight that libertarians just end up on the same pole with all the other crazed leveler-cults was spot on.

"The United States shall guarantee to every State in this Union a Republican Form of Government, and shall protect each of them against Invasion" ~ US Constitution: Article IV, Section 4

In the context of open immigration what does this guarantee mean?

That for considerably more than the first century of the Republic's history, immigration was completely unrestricted, and those who wrote the Constitution never considered unrestricted immigration an 'invasion.'

Times change, of course, but the answer to your question is exceedingly simple.

I think if 10,000 indigenous Americans had tried to hike into Virginia they would have been massacred.

Wasn't that essentially what happened with America's original open borders policy?

I imagine Robert e lee could have qualified for a HB 1B visa or at least invested 500000 dollars in the new Brooklyn Nets stadium but for some reason the borders to Maryland and Pennsylvania just swung shut when he waltzed through.

Along those lines

Interestingly, prior to a SCOTUS case in the 1850's, immigration was a matter of State policy.

That is the biggest problem with immigration: it's a local phenomenon decided at the national level.

Not according to this, concerning the history of the INS and immigration -

'Not until the late 1800s did the public begin to question that policy. After the Civil War, some states started to pass their own immigration laws, which prompted the Supreme Court to rule in 1875 that immigration was a federal responsibility.'

No. States had laws excluding the destitute, diseased, etc. There was a case in the 1850's, and the Civil War took precedence over a lot of things. I'll look for it at some point.

"The moral argument for open borders is powerful"

I disagree. There is nothing that imposes on the people in successful countries any moral obligation to accept immigrants from countries that have made a hash of things. We might wish to accept some immigrants if we thought those immigrants might improve our country but there is no moral obligation to accept any of them. If we want to help the third world we could do more good for more people by: (1) murdering corrupt tyrants (I would personally start with the Mugabe regime); (2) opposing corruption everywhere; (3) supporting the rule of law everywhere; and (4) supporting economic freedom and free trade everywhere.

Open borders would be the best thing that could happen to dictators and cleptocracies in the world.

It does nothing but empower them. They'd be able to get rid of the people they don't want. It allows government expendtures to be reduced. The remittances sent home by people overseas are a wonderful source of extra cash for them to tap into, via corruption and a thousand other ways.

Nobody benefits from our current immigration mess than the rich, criminal elite of Mexico, for example. This group exploits their own poor, keeps milions of Americans out of work or at reduced wages, causes us to spend billions of Mexican citizens we could be spending on ourselves.

All the talk about open borders overlooks the inconvenient fact of the fate of those left behind, who remain poor, miserable, exploited and ignored.

Or is the First World eventually supposed to take in everybody else?

Don't you all feel like fools that we Americans are being exploited to make life better for a bunch of Mexican crooks, white collar, political and traditional crooks?

Why should poor Mexicans be pointed North to solve their problems? Poor Mexicans should be pointed at their own people in charge, and encouraged to go after them and take away their power to exploit them until they can establish real control over their lives.

As America’s technology and service-based economy has expanded over the last decade, its demand for high-skilled labor has increased greatly. Global competition requires access to the world’s best talent.

As quoted by a Rubio aide, maybe some American workers cannot cut it. By limiting access to talent, we limit our economic potential. Studies have shown immigrants have a higher propensity to consume than American citizens. Any believer in the free market would oppose policy that restricts economic freedom.

Many people have said it before, but one more time;

It is not "open borders" vs. "no immigration at all"

The first is the viewpoint of a cult of extremist. The second is not.

Any believer in the free market would oppose a policy that clearly restricts the legitimate property rights of the "owners" - hence they should oppose a policy that claims that americans have no right to have borders, even thougt these americans have worked for decades and paid taxes, invested i public goods, have made lots of sacrifices for the next generations/fellow countrymen and for the common goods, who have fought wars, have created institutions of incredible value, have democratically decided the rules of this society ............

Only as long as every American citizen more successful than you gets to vote on whether you can hack it. I'll get the vote rolling with a no vote.

Better yet lets have random sample of 50 women vote on whether they'd want you creepily hitting on them a bar. If not pack your bags you don't cut it.

High tech companies can have all the highly creative, unique and geniusy-level immigrants they want.

They can do that with the number of visas already available.

How? Use them only to hire "talent" of a rare and high quality.

For their jobs that require really smart and educated people but "talented" in the way you mean -- who are not part of the worldwide talented .001% or .0001% -- let them groom and hire American citizens.

I lleft out an important "not".

Last paragraph above should be "For their jobs that require really smart and educated people but ARE NOT “talented” in the way you mean — who are not part of the worldwide talented .001% or .0001% — let them groom and hire American citizens."


Too many of the work visas have been going to executors, not creators. One of them even went to the Times Square bomber, who went to an American university so bad and such a blatant diploma mill for foreign students only that it went out of business. Yet Elizabeth Arden, the distinguished American cosmetics company, hired put him in their accounting department and paid him around $50,000 (the going price for good experienced secretaries at the time) and as I recall, did not give him a raise for years, if ever.

Make the companies use their visas for talent. They'll hve enough. If they don't, then let them prove that -- really prove it.

Having to "really prove it" would make it more difficult for American companies to access foreign talent. We're not talking about domestic workers here ... would that really be good for anyone?

Perhaps it's that simple arguments grounded in morality are easier to digest. In other words, sound bytes win.
e.g.: Pro Open Borders: How can we justify excluding someone just because of where they were born?
Anti Open Borders: We are born with obligations to our fellow citizens.
Both will resonate; just with different groups.

Oh, and I realize that what I wrote for 'anti open borders' is defined as 'citizenism'. What a weird habit some people have for creating new definitions for basic principles that have been around for thousands of years. And what a weird claim that "every orthodox moral theory" (from Bryan Caplan) refutes citizenism, as if those theories weren't created in a context where 'citizenism' was taken for granted. Let's make Bryan Caplan and Alex Tabbarok adopt whomever wants to be their children, since only an accident of birth prevented it.

As if every orthodox moral theory wouldn't equally find Caplan's idea of a bubble equally insidious. Indeed the only moral theory that might again might agitate against citizensim would be Christianity the moral theory that would find Caplan's misanthropic bubble building odious.

I think the next thing to tear down would be the borders of the US National Parks system. There should be no line separating that land from the people who would voluntarily pay to live in them.

What's the point of having a national park if you develop it like that? Must we develop 100% of the surface of the earth? Can there be no space for nature?

There are more people like me. That's why a few percentage is off limits for development. Go visit when the parks open up again in the spring and partake in the natural wonders.

Absolutism and gradualism might need each other.

If I think about animal rights, it's hard to see how abolitionists (e.g. could win without the welfarists. Getting most people on your side seems important and impossible to do if you make too sharp a jump. Most abolitionists themselves probably started out as welfarists.

At the same time, abolitionists are helpful to welfarists, who can then tell their skeptic audience that they are moderate and there is nothing to worry about....

When I saw this post I checked the date to see if it was April 1st already. Since when are accidents of birth immoral? Sounds like "Anthem". I also agree with the comments claiming that a country belongs to its citizens. Individuals as well as countries do have certain moral obligations to use their property to help others, but that is much different than not having any property rights at all. Calling this a moral high ground strikes me as bizarre, to say the least. I wonder if it is even defensible.

"Are closed borders morally defensible?" is different from the question of: "Is it morally appropriate for the United States of America to adopt a policy of open immigration in 2014?" That is a contingent question to which the answer could conceivably be yes. But nothing like a sweeping moral standpoint that closed borders are wrong.

What principled moral distinction can you make between assigning moral weight to the color of someone's skin and the location of someone's birth? Using terms like "citizen" and "other people" in a debate about the morality of a government restricting where people can live, work and who they can associate with, is called "begging the question". Those are the very concepts that are being challenged here so you can't use them unless you can offer a moral justification for them outside of some statist formalist rationale that "the law says so and so is a citizen." Such an argument would have worked equally as well, which is to say not at all, in the argument over slavery, the morality of the fugitive slave act, Jim Crow laws, etc.

Because these proposals will create a politically instable climate in formerly stable, non-violent countries that will lead to violent confrontation and civil war. That is why it is NOT a moral argument. When France or Greece or Britain erupts into the inevitable civil war with their masses of culturally incompatible Third World imports, where will your moral arguments be then? Will you just run away and whine that mass immigration and open borders "could have worked, but just wasn't done right!"--just as the communists did when the Wall fell?

The one bright spot is that Europe will probably explode into massive ethnic and religious conflict before we do. This will mean that people like you will be ostracized and ridiculed and marginalized--if not actually prosecuted and sentenced--before you can do your worst harm.

On one side, we have "let's care about everyone and open the borders so they have a chance too".

On the other side, we have (generously) "it would be nice if things could be good for them, but I care about me more so keep them out because I don't want to have to compete with them for jobs".

I think that here, "moral" means caring about other people (and the absolute or relative injustices they face) as opposed to the implicit selfishness (also natural) in wanting to keep them out. If that's remotely similar to what is going on in Mr Tabarrok's head, then yes, you can make sweeping moral statements while still understanding that people are the self-centered animals that we are.

Thing is, we're not monkeys. We can choose to engage in mental tricks (aka free thought) which create new social and political realities. Why not broaden the tribe a little? You don't have to go straight to Washington tomorrow to lead the demonstration, just have half a thought about the injustice that leads to the perspectives put forward on open borders.

In more recent times, civil unions have gone nowhere while equality of marriage has succeeded beyond all expectation.

Actually, the number of countries with gay marriage is about the same as the number of countries with gay civil unions:

And in Germany, legally, only civil unions are granted by the state. Marriage is a matter for a church, and has no bearing on whether one is considered to be joined legally to another.

Mr Tabarrok writes...

As a result, people who openly defend closed borders sound evil, even when they are simply defending what most people implicitly accept.

No, they don't. Caplan writes...

Americans in particular want to have their cake and eat it, too. They certainly don't want their country "invaded" by Latin American immigration. But when a citizenist articulately justifies their anxiety, the typical American feels like the citizenist is too racist to acknowledge, much less endorse.

This seems disingenuous. I hardly doubt that most Americans would have such an opinion of "citizenism". They would think it of Sailer's views on race and intelligence - which, whatever one's opinions on the link between genetics and cognitive skills, need have no bearing on one's view of the question of whether a state should prioritise the interests of its citizens above those of other people's.

I am interested, by the way, in how Mr Tabarrok justifies what I suspect is a far more substantial wage than most people enjoy to himself. Doubtless, he has worked hard throughout his life to achieve it but without the accidents of birth that were his genes and his childhood environment he would never have attained such a privileged position. It strikes me that the libertarian defence of open borders and the Marxist defence of egalitarianism have more in common than one might suspect.

If you really get into the nitty gritty, you may find that the extreme left and extreme right agree on a lot of things.

The moral argument for open borders is powerful

No, it is not. It is only powerful if you are willing to sacrifice more for a random Chinese than for your own biological child. Which isn't true for >99.999% of humans.

these open borders drones don't analyze the situation that deeply. They just do as the elites tell them--demonize the anti-mass immigration people as racists. It is the nazi brownshirt syndrome at work. Whatever the elite want, these open borders brownshirts will do. Whatever...

How you can paint someone that way for wanting to find a way for everyone in the world to have a half a chance is beyond me.

I am more sympathetic with DK, who points out that people care about their family more than people that they don't know.

First we are selfish, then we care about family and friends, then our community, then nation (some people may interchange some of these for whatever reasons) ... and many people would like us to go one step further and care about the rest of people out there too.

And the notion that open borders types would ever do as the elites say because the elites said so is so laughable that I'm not even sure how to respond. Most people would consider it a fringe idea, not an elite idea.

I am interested, by the way, in how Mr Tabarrok justifies what I suspect is a far more substantial wage than most people enjoy to himself.

Among a very large number of parasites, there will always be one that is good enough to become a random winner.

Anybody who sucks lavish cream from the taxpayer titty, while occupying a job he can't be fired from, is in no way a "libertarian." Let's hear these guys make a case for eliminating taxpayer-funded university tenure with the same zeal they try to make a case for open borders.

Isn't university tenure just a means of "protectionism," after all?

Tenure, among other things, allows academics to explore concepts without fear of being fired for political reasons. Without it, we would almost definitely not be having this conversation.

Indeed, and of course at the same time, university tenure functions as protectionism. It is a relic from bygone days when people had this crazy notion that workers could band together to negotiate much like capital holders do, for such dangerous purposes as obtaining job security, something that most people in the real world actually want.

If there's a problem with tenure, it's that some (too many) profs will stop those intellectual explorations the moment they obtain tenure and become indifferent as to their student's progress. I strongly suspect that neither of these is the case with Mr Tabarrok.

Do you yourself have an argument against taxpayer funded universities, or the right of people who work in them to negotiate collectively?

A "libertarian" shouldn't be financed by public funds collected by state-sponsored "theft." That's their argument, not mine. As for job "protectionism", the "libertarian" argument is that it's the most horrible thing in the world, ever, which is why they plump so vigorously for "open borders."

I think even fairly extreme libertarians agree that the benefits of public education are so enormous, and the injustice of excluding the poor from education so great, that it is easy to make an exception for education.

Academic Department
Solar System

At what point do the high morals of open borders kick in? At what point are "arbitrary" restrictions allowed? Why? Why open the lines at Nations and not at Universities or Corporations? Why shouldn't I be able to join any family I want, never mind any University Department or Corporation?. Why shouldn't I be able to marry anyone I want to, whether or not they want to marry me? Hmmm.

Sometimes you need to be the shining beacon of freedom. Start by working to eliminate the various land-use restrictions in your neighborhood that keep property values high and poor people out.

I'm glad its framed as a religious argument since that puts in its proper light, another hostile "universal" religion a secularized Christendom or Islam thinking to force the globe to confirm to its ethos.

Thanks but no thanks. In that light I see what those advocates want is anathema, immoral on its face and impracticable.

As C.S. Lewis put it "Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron's cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.”

open borders is the very definition of treason

There was a lot of emotions, as always, in this thread against the idea of open borders. But what about Alex's actual point that moral crusaders in general should not compromise and should continue to push for the full implementation of their moral position? He quotes many successful examples (for instance abolition of slavery), but of course we don't know 1) what would have happened if they did compromise and 2) what about the causes that took this road but failed. A further issue is that whereas some causes that did not compromise were very likely to be morally correct (eg slavery) others were very bad (eg Maoism). The compromise approach minimizes the damage that you might cause if you are wrong and allows perhaps a judgment during the implementation that can fine tune any unintended consequences.

This is an easy one. Your concept of morality is insane because the metaphysical assumptions underpinning them are wrong. As such, you are a raving lunatic on moral issues and nobody should bother listening to you.

On open borders, there seems a genuine fear that relaxing immigration would result in a flood of immigrants into the US. But actually there is a nice experiment that has been taking place in Europe where there has been significant reduction in immigration barriers between the very poor Eastern European countries and the richer parts of Europe. It is worth noting that while there has been some movement, generally speaking most of the population stays where they are. And the countries that have taken the immigrants, such as the Germany and the UK, are hardly in a state of collapse, in fact both these countries have pretty low rates of unemployment and the UK in particular a level of employment that is much higher than the US.

A similar point can be made about the US. Wages in Mississippi and Alabama are very much lower than, say New York. But we don't see hordes of Mississippian's and Alabama's wondering the streets of New York looking for alms.

You obviusly don't know much about what is really happening in Europe, do you? That some parts of Western Europe (i.e. Marseille, France) are seriously talking about implementing martial law to control the chaos, violence, and ethnic feudal ganglordism that has been imported into the country by open borders. That Sweden's second-largest city, Malmo, is now known as the "Chicago of Europe" because of its high rate of gangland violence, almost all of which is non-Swedish in nature? That in the U.K., the crime and potential for ethnic conflict is so high that the country is under virtual wall-to-wall surveillance by CCTV cameras, and that people (almost always white natives) are actually being sentenced to prison terms for "crimespeak?"

Yes, Europe sounds like a libertarian paradise. Martial law, wall to wall surveillance, and prison terms for crimespeakers!!! Would that everyone in the world had access to such "liberty." Bring on the open borders utopia!!!!

You do know that all,considered Chicago is actually a pretty nice place to live, right?

The idea of an "open border" Earth is very compelling. I think most people (I'm speaking from an "American" perspective) wouldn't be so put off by the notion, if it weren't so problematic in terms of its ultimate effects, where "the rubber meets the road". I, personally, believe that it would be a good thing if international barriers were to dissolve; problem being though, that international political and capital forces are unlikely, I think, to change their methods of operation, regardless of how the mass of peoples perceive their collective "sense" of their borders.

That is to say, however we might together form "grass roots" notions of how agreeable the dissolution of borders might be, there also (seem at least) to be forces at work that would continue to behave just as they have historically, regardless of any "progressive" notion of societal unification brought about by peoples' "mass movements". I think that it's dangerous to assume that a "notional" change in the organization of international affairs is going to change how the larger movers in finance and politics are going to behave. In fact, it seems to me, that while these, again, ultimately (in a rigorous ethical analysis) desirable, ideas of "global unification" will only present greater opportunities for those who have traditionally taken advantage of "realpolitik" to control international affairs, to carry on doing what they have been doing; which haven't, on the whole, in my opinion, been a good things.

In short, it would be good, generally, to isolate collective notions of how beneficial a "global humanity" might be from the perspective of various hopeful populi (of which I am one), and from the perspective of the over-arching scientific, financial and political forces who might see the whole movement as merely a wider "cattle-gate".

If we are to have open borders, we first should open up the borders of the most valued neighborhoods in the United States. The same argument for open borders could be made for allowing slum housing to be built for the poor in wealthy communities. Why shouldn't nations be allowed to police their borders the same way that wealthy communities enact numerous regulations to keep the poor and middle class from living in them?

How is it "moral" to deliberately create social conditions that are almost certain to lead to a bloody civil war, in which millions will be either maimed or killed? The "moral" argument is garbage. Deliberately re-creating the conditions of the former Yugoslavia, in a formerly extremely stable and peaceful country such as Sweden, is simply evil beyond belief.

The comments for this and the previous article have been interesting. Good to see a discussion of this. It would be great to have a real debate going. Personally I'm on the fence. There are a lot of good arguments for restricting immigration in developed countries. Though at the same time, there are utilitarian arguments to be made in favor of not just continuing the current high immigration but completely open borders. I think that if most American citizens had the experience of getting to know in person some people in some of the worst countries on the planet, Americans in general would be in favor of drastically increased immigration.

What if the US govt paid for free plane tickets for all Syrian residents to fly to the USA and be granted citizenship? I'm not saying this would be the case, but what if it made the USA a slightly worse place (in the short-intermediate term at least) but overall improved well being for the people (Americans and Syrians) involved far more than it hurt?

Most Americans are okay with wealthy people paying some tax to help the impoverished. Almost all government functions are based on this perspective, from police departments to roads to Medicaid. Even though it makes a wealthy person less well off, generally speaking taking 5,000 USD from a wealthy person and giving it to a disabled person (SSI) is going to improve the disabled person's life mentally and physically far more than it will hurt the wealthy person. The same argument could be made for open borders.

" Why shouldn’t I be able to join any family I want, never mind any University Department or Corporation?" << this sort of argument has been made a number of times in the comments and are a false analogy. Forcing a family to adopt you or forcing someone to let you stay in their home is not at all the same thing as a family willingly adopting you, or a person inviting you to visit. Nobody is being forced, at least in the analogy being argued here, with open borders.

Not sure I buy the 'lottery of birth' argument. As a vegan, I ponder how that argument would be used regarding the rights and welfare of animals.

I can see why some will argue that we should allow people to be as greedy as they want to be, whether it's removing the welfare state or restricting immigration or making exclusionary zoning laws. But a lot of people think it's right to make a small collective burden that benefits humanity... and for that reason, ideas like open borders will become more popular if economic growth continues steady in the coming decades.

"Nobody is being forced, at least in the analogy being argued here, with open borders."

Of course you are forcing people to accept large numbers of foreigners as equal citizens and neighbors. You are forcing some cultures and ethnic groups to accept an accelerated death in favor of others. There is absolutely nothing voluntary about it.

The forced adoption analogy is completely relevant. Tabarrok and Caplan either ignore it or briefly dismiss it without any substantial logic or reason.

You're making a straw man argument by saying that the open borders position is advocating that governments engage in illegal totalitarian behavior such as "forcing people to accept large numbers of foreigners". I don't think anybody is calling for Obama to declare himself dictator and give US citizenship to every person on Earth.

And your definition of "force" seems rather stretched, anyway. Being forced to accept having neighbors that you don't want is a lot different from being forced to do or not to do something, such as being forced to let your bad neighbors live on your property.

I'm glad that African immigrants in the USA are able to live here, and by living here get to live on average 25 years longer and have much higher life satisfaction, thanks to being able to leave life under a kleptocratic government, and not having to worry about things like malaria or their albino child being murdered for their body parts to be used in witchcraft, for example. This is despite the fact that I've avoided living in parts of Brooklyn due to the high crime rate of African immigrants, even experiencing an African immigrant attempting to scam me on one occasion.

I don't wish for Obama to become dictator and make all my preferred policy decisions. I wish for the public to learn more about issues (as I try to) and engage informatively in our political processes.

"How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned" in abusive or neglectful families while other children are born into caring families? In this sense how are borders to countries any different than borders to families or households or schools?

American adults are allowed to leave their abusive families, sometimes with the help of governmental assistance. Similarly, children are taken out of abusive or neglectful homes. Maybe people living under awful governments should be given the opportunity to move out if they wish? Maybe if the North Korean government allowed their people to leave, other countries should let these people in rather than force them to stay under tyranny? If American citizens interviewed North Korean families one by one, do you think they would generally say "no, stay under Kim Jung-Un... I'd rather you suffer there than be allowed to move to my country. Do what Steve Sailer says and take responsibility for your own government." ??

The Open Borders position is about as moral as Bolshevik love of appropriation, and based on the same princiiple. Bolsheviks considered it injust that through an accident of birth some people were rich and others poor. Like the Bolsheviks Alex is willing to destroy cultures, and create vast amounts of human suffering to achieve his Utopian Dream. Alex and Caplan are contemptible human beings.

This post deserves another comment.

The argument is better made as what is best for the country in question (lets say like free trade arguments). The citizens of a country are properly concerned with how immigration policy affects *them*. The hierarchy of societal organizational units (family, company, university, town, state, country, etc) all have different levels of abstraction and different self-interested exclusionary policies, but they all have them. The "moral high ground" argument just confuses a pretty basic operating principle of all entities. The "open border" stuff sounds like pizza box arguments about private ownership of roads and too many Star Trek conventions to these ears. This doesn't mean that the optimal immigration policy for the US isn't much more liberal than it is today, especially for higher achievers, or useful skill sets, or under-represented countries. Should successful companies hire everyone who wants to work for them and fail? Or remain restrictive and just donate some of their profits to philanthropy?

No one goes to the barricades for efficiency. For liberty, equality or fraternity, perhaps, but never for efficiency?

Are you sure about that? Before the fall of the Soviet Union, I was a small cog in the military-industrial complex (broadly defined). My sister ran the book section in a department store. Which of us did more to topple those statues of Stalin? Last time I heard, one of the reasons the Soviet Union fell was that those privileged enough to see western department stores and western standards of living could see - comparatively - what a disaster they were living in because of how inefficient their economy was.

Hmm, who had the shorter commute?

I think people underestimate the importance of cheap oil in making the USSR fall as it destroyed their foreign reserves.

Efficiency in economic processes may have contributed to the goods in those stores, but I highly doubt the walls came down because they were thinking "we need efficiency". More likely "whatever we're doing isn't working, let's try what they're doing".

It was an empire that tried to bind together numerous nationalities who never really accepted Soviet rule except that they had no choice.

In any case, the USSR more fell apart than experienced a revolution. It wasn't working, either politically or economically.

From a more marginal perspective can we run a limited experiment. I think it would be easier to create zones where immigration is based on job location. Open borders for Detroit. If you are a company that wants to utilize cheap immigrants then open up shop in a depressed and dying city that desperately needs population.

A reverse SEZ, as it were.

As a pilot program, how about this. Find a suitable location in one of the lowest population density areas in the USA that has a freeway passing through it. Buy for example 100 square miles of land. Fence up the border and allow anybody in the world with appropriate skills or cash to fly in. Allow for very high density zoning. We might end up with our own Hong Kong...

I am personally opposed to open borders, BUT if it's going to work at all, it would only work if all nations agreed to open their borders at the same time.

For example, if Norway suddenly decided to take a bold stand and be the first to open their borders to all comers, they would quickly be inundated with hundreds of thousands of people from the poorest countries in the world, many of them having spent what little they own on a plane/boat ticket and having nothing left, and now they would naturally expect public assistance, and free schooling for their children, like any Norwegian child would get. Except now, classes would have to be in dozens of different languages.

If all nations opened their borders at once, then at least the number of immigrants would be spread out across many wealthy nations at once, and the peoples of those wealthy nations would be free to immigrate somewhere else themselves, if they didn't like the way things were going.

I'm pointing all this out because people who advocate open borders usually have few ideas about how that would work in practical terms. Do you allow in people with criminal records too? If not, then aren't you ceding the "moral high ground" by closing your borders to some, but leaving them open for others?

I doubt they would expect social assistance upon arrival. They come from places where you take $5 to buy whatever you can and hawk it. Have you ever been to Mediterranean Europe?

Doesn't matter. Even if they get no "handouts" do you really think any country will refuse to allow the children to attend school? That they will tolerate hundreds of thousands of kids on the streets creating a permanent underclass?

And FWIW, I was born in Germany, lived there about a third of my life, and yes, I've visited Mediterranean cities many times. You see plenty of African street vendors selling knock off products to tourists. That's fine for a few immigrants, but under any open borders scheme the vast majority would have to find employment elsewhere.

I've the answer to the problem of "accidental birth". Let's switch the children of the "unfortunately born" with the children of liberal do holders. A la Puddinhead Wilson. This kind of human capitol redistribution is happening already due to the adoptions of Chinese girls by well off Americans but we can take it much further by forced child switching, somewhat in the Argentinian model. We can do it up to the age of 18. We can tranquilizer dart them and transfer them to new families countries and cultures. They purport to love other cultures and find it necessary and rewarding to be among "differences". So let's give them what they want. In turn, poor third world children will wake up to the ringtones of iphones in cushy memory foam beds to the smells of free trade coffee and tofu bacon.

"The world is my religion" - there is the problems. I am confident that this writer would identify himself as an atheist or at the most agnostic yet he still has some irrational religious belief. The religion pushes people to do things counter their own best interests.

Common sense tells me that there is "moral" imperative for open borders. Opening the borders to millions of third worlders with low IQs and no skills does nothing for me and it does nothing for my countrymen. Total rubbish.

Please, "low IQ" --> "little or no education".

Otherwise people will think you're racist.

I don't think a full and proper discussion of immigration can be had without considering the IQ factor, which some experts say is one of the biggest reasons if not the biggest reason why some countries are rich and others are poor, as these IQ differences preceded differing economic outcomes of the last +50 years. Like it or not, true or not, there is enough evidence to consider the possibility of it being of great importance, so it shouldn't be overlooked here.

I would like to point out that the most desperate and vulnerable people in the world would not be able to afford to come to America. In fact, most (percentage?) of the world could not afford the airfare if they wanted to. Even if this political barrier were removed, significant economic barriers would still exist.

That's not a statement for or against open borders, it is intended to be a reality check on the sorts of injustice that lead people to support the principle of open borders.

I think the question should not be "if" but "when". I think a realistic solution to brain drains, etc. would need to be sorted out before traction could every build among large portions of society, in which case marginalist approaches are probably better. That having been said, I somewhat anticipate that the US will become more closed, not more open.

What's your Plan B in case your open borders utopia doesn't work out? In case all the First World countries just degenerate into an Aghan style ethnic feudal free for all ruled by ruthless warlords? Then what?

What's the Plan B? Call out the army? So basically what you are saying is that you want to import tens of millions of people from the Third World and then, if it doesn't turn out the way you expect it to--then what? You declare war on them and kill them?

Smart thinkin' Lincoln.

Actually, I don't think the economics would be the barrier you think it is. In a recent survey, about 40% of Mexicans said they would emigrate to the US if given the chance. That would be 40 million right there, and most could certainly afford to take that trip. Similarly, Southern Europe is only a short trip for millions of people in North Africa and the Middle East.

The moral argument for open borders is powerful. How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in countries where their political or geographic institutions prevent them from making a living? Indeed, most moral frameworks (libertarian, utilitarian, egalitarian, and others) strongly favor open borders

We are continually reminded that much of the professional-managerial bourgoisie are not our countrymen in any affective sense. I do wish they would either pay rent or complete the task and emigrate.

Completely agree.

It's a real problem that the so many people in leadership roles in America don't see themselves as Americans, they see themselves as "citizens of the world". Plus they have the all-important Plan B: they have enough assets to get a residency visa in another country. The vast majority of natiave born citizens are stuck here.


France's second-largest city, Marseille, is 40 percent non-native French. It is so violent, chaotic, and dominated by feudal ethnic ganglords that some French politicians are calling for martial law to be implemented there:

In France, open borders has resulted in conditions where martial law is seriously being considered. So we see now that that open borders "libertariansim" results in martial law. Yet we have these bizarre people telling us that open borders will result in greater "liberty." Like the "liberty" of Marseille, or the hundreds of other regions in France that are now considered no-go areas for native French people?

"Liberty"=martial law. This is so insane that it belongs in a Lewis Carroll novel.

Please, please MP: no reality allowed in this debate!


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How is it "moral" that I may work myself to the bone my entire life to provide my children certain advantages in life including better education, a better political system, cleaner air and water, etc., only to have all those things then given freely to anyone who manages to walk across the border of my nation?

Men work, fight, and even die to improve a nation for THEIR posterity. Nobody intentionally works, fights, and dies solely to improve the lot of foreigners in another nation.

You open borders folk advocate global communism more than any libertarianism. In your world, men would have zero incentive to improve their nation, but only to build private walled enclaves with armed guards to keep out the unwashed masses demanding unearned goodies.

It really makes you feel bad to make society better for other people? Who is asking anyone to sacrifice their lives soley for the benefit of foreigners? Does anybody really say to themselves "I would do my part to make my country a better place... but the borders aren't 100% closed so I'll just let my country go to shit"?

I think you're projecting your own dark feelings towards humanity onto all people when you say "men would have zero incentive to improve their nation".

In other words: "Stan, we don't want none of your stinkin' reality round here!"

I see arguments of incredibly poor-quality that make me cringe all the time but I never thought I'd see it here. Tell me, if you really wanted to determine the best mechanisms for marketing a controversial idea, how would you go about doing that? How much of this post adds valuable insight into such a discussion and how much is just your personal wild guess? How valuable are selectively chosen anecdotes at informing one on the issues? You're much better at analysis than this.

"How can it be moral that through the mere accident of birth some people are imprisoned in countries where their political or geographic institutions prevent them from making a living?"

And how can it be just that through the mere accident of birth some people are born in worse families than others? Alex, you must certainly open your family and allow anyone who wants to join it!

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