open borders and out of state tuition: a key hole solution that works

In Open Borders theory, a key hole solution is a policy proposal that is designed to promote the liberalization of immigration while addressing a very specific policy concern. For example, let’s say that I was afraid that Canadians can’t drive. Instead of banning Canadians, we would simply require Canadians to take extra driving lessons before they get a license.

People may think key hole solutions are wonky, or they wouldn’t address the concerns of restrictionists, or just simply wouldn’t work. Here is an example of an actual key hole solution that (a) is widely popular, (b) works pretty well, and (c) is a solution to an issue raised by open borders. It’s called out of state tuition.

The idea is simple. Public universities offer discounts to residents who have lived in the state for a few years. The idea is that once you’ve paid years of sales taxes, property taxes, and other taxes, you get to use a public service at a discount. Why is this a problem? Open borders. America doesn’t restrict what state you can live in. You can move anywhere. But if you haven’t lived in a specific state for a while, you haven’t paid your share of state taxes that go to education. The solution is very easy. Become a resident, file some tax returns, and you get the discount.

What I like about this example is that it is a genuine policy issue (people claiming residency just for the discount) created by free migration. It is also a policy that is simple, humane, and fairly popular. The next time you hear a complaint about open borders ask yourself if there is something easy and simple we can do rather than condemning millions of people to poverty.

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Written by fabiorojas

October 9, 2014 at 12:01 am

Posted in ethics, fabio

6 Responses

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  1. Out of state tuition is the keyhole that is variably open or not — in WI you can’t become instate no matter how long you live there , own a house and car etc IF you ever started university as an out of state student. In CT once you legally lived there and paid taxes for a full year you became in state even if you established residence after starting grad school. Other states vary between these two extremes, but it is not likely to be perceived as a “problem” needing to be made tighter/looser in either of these states.



    October 9, 2014 at 3:01 am

  2. Grouchosis: Your comment raises an important empirical issue about migration. In one case, you have a lenient solution. In another, you have a strict solution. Yet, in neither case, do people seem to be particularly disturbed about the policy. This suggests to me that the fear that open borders would case some tax on state governments is overrated. Regardless, even having the most modest of policies seems to quell resentment of out of state students.



    October 9, 2014 at 3:41 am

  3. WI not only has a high bar to an out of state resident ever getting in-state tuition, it has (at the undergrad level) a cap on the percentage of out of state students, which is directly tied to anti-“immigrant” hostility dating from the 1960s (when East Coast Jews were blamed for protests). So the border is not entirely open, it is more like an immigration quota.



    October 9, 2014 at 11:54 pm

  4. OW: Wow – anti semitism rears its ugly head. I did not know that. More skeletons in the closet of higher education…


    Fabio Rojas

    October 10, 2014 at 3:27 am

  5. Come on, fake “Fabio Rojas,” we know that real “fabiorojas” *grey background* would never use two cliche expressions within six words of one another. Quit riding on this blogger’s good name.



    October 11, 2014 at 12:13 am

  6. RE WI and Jews, interestingly, there are lots of east coast Jewish families that have been coming to UW for several generations because in the 1930s and 1940s, Wisconsin was one of the few schools that did NOT discriminate against Jews. And there are still a lot of out-of-state Jews who attend the university. Today the cap on out of state students is justified in terms of insisting that the university serve in-state working class students. Which is actually a pretty noble goal, compared to “state” schools that are balancing their books by enrolling more out of state students who pay the full cost of instruction. The only problem, of course, is that state funding for the gap between in-state tuition and the cost of instruction has been declining, thus producing a budget problem.



    October 12, 2014 at 6:30 pm

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