Archive for the ‘open borders’ Category
The story of 21th century immigration in the US is a story of slamming doors shut, with one exception. For decades, the US has allowed any Cuban who could reach American land to stay there. Originally, the idea was simply to allow people travelling by boat to land ashore, then, during the Clinton administration, the Coast Guard would turn back boats, but if you somehow reach shore, or traveled through Mexico or Canada, you could stay.
Open Borders in action. Thousands upon thousands avoided the horrors of the Cuban state, with its jailing of gay people and harassment of dissidents, were given the option to live in a much more humane society. Now, Cubans will be returned, against their will. The “wet foot, dry foot” policy has come to an end. The justification? From Ilya Somin’s Washington Post column:
The main rationale for the policy change is that it is unfair to treat Cuban refugees differently from those fleeing other oppressive governments. As President Obama put it, we should treat them “the same way we treat migrants from other countries.” Ideally, we should welcome all who flee oppression, regardless of whether their oppressors are regimes of the left or the right, or radical Islamists.
But the right way to remedy this inequality is not to treat Cuban refugees worse, but to treat other refugees better. And if the latter is not politically feasible, we should at least refrain from exacerbating the evil by facilitating the oppression of Cubans. It is better to protect Cuban refugees from the risk of deportation than none at all.
If a police force disproportionately abuses blacks, it would be unjust to “fix” the inequality by inflicting similar abuse on whites or Asians. Inflicting abuse on other groups is both unjust in itself and unlikely to help blacks. Similarly, the injustice inflicted on refugees from other oppressive regimes cannot and should not by imposing similar injustices on Cubans.
If my house is on fire, you don’t throw me back in because it makes me equal with other people whose homes are on fire. You let me out and then help other people escape their fires. What a sad form of logic. Violence under the disguise of equality.
Normally, at the end of an administration, I say “good riddance” and hope for better policies. Unfortunately, I think this is just a prelude to much of the same.
While discussing a recent paper on public opinion and slavery in the pre-Civil War South on Econ Talk, Michael Munger gets into the arguments made for slavery:
Munger: … what Montesquieu asked was this: ‘We always hear people talking about how great slavery is. And you say, well, slavery is beneficial to you and it’s beneficial to the slaves; but it’s mostly slave owners who say stuff like that.’
Russ: Which makes you think.
Munger: Well, suppose we all go into a room. And when we come out, some of us are going to be slaves, and some won’t. Now, do you still believe in slavery? And if that’s then standard, then okay. But otherwise I’m not persuaded that this is really a moral argument about how we should live our lives. And so, what’s interesting is: there are these conventions. And then there are these challenges. And I think Rawls deserves credit for having said, ‘Here’s a standard that it would have to pass.’ … I don’t know we’re going to end up believing. But if you think ‘Yes,’ then in order for you to persuade anyone else that it’s actually just, it would have to pass these sorts of tests. It’s not exactly the same thing as understanding persuasion. But it is a way of problematizing the conventions that come down to us that we just accept because they are traditions.
Excellent point. I call this the “substitution test” for an ethical argument. For any policy X, you are free to make the arguments for why people A and B should accept X. Then, you have to put yourself into the position of A and B. If you wince at X at any point, then that’s probably a good reason to think twice about X. It’s related to the Rawlsian argument that one should evaluate policy from an “original position,” stripped of our actual interests.
Application to open borders: Say you are arguing that we should shut out all Syrian refugees because we’re afraid of terrorism. If you woke up and found yourself to be a Syrian refugee, would you make the same argument? If you faced death and torture in Aleppo, wouldn’t you want to argue that not all Muslim people are terrorists? Or that collective punishment and guilt by association are wrong? Or that maybe you should be given the chance to prove that you aren’t a terrorist? Or maybe that the value of saving millions of lives outweighs a few lives lost due to a few terrorists that the police didn’t screen out? Or that you’d be willing to pay an extra tax to compensate people who were harmed by migration?
In other words, most people people in the position of the Syrian refugee would not argue for shutting the gates and voluntarily returning to the burning ruble. Instead, they would almost certainly consider much more modest policies for addressing the perceived problems with migration so that lives could be saved. There’s a lot of moderate middle ground that people ignore when they promote closed borders.
Restrictionists, the ball is in your court.
Will you be in Chicago tomorrow? I will be giving a talk on Open Borders at Northwestern University, details here. 4pm in Room A110 in the Northwestern Technical Institute. Come by say hello! Thanks to Jeremy Foote and Bryan Jackson-Green for organizing.
On March 9, we will have the first Open Borders Day 2016 event at Harvard. The event is very exciting – we have four esteemed speakers who will explore the economic and legal aspects of free movement:
- Lant Pritchett – Professor of the Practice of International Development at the Kennedy School at Harvard. Author of “Let Their People Come.”
- Valerie Vande Panne – Director of Communications at the Massachusetts Immigrant Refugee Advoacy (MIRA) Coalition. She has also published in The Guardian, Salon, and other venues.
- Jeffrey Miron – Senior Lecturer at the Harvard Department of Economics.
- Bryan Caplan – Professor of economics at George Mason University and open borders advocate.
Starts at 5pm and there will be excellent food served at the end. Please check out the Facebook page for the event for details. Hope you can make it.
A few weeks ago, I spoke about open borders at Wellesley College as a guest of the Freedom Project. My talk summarized the view that open borders is a “common grounds” position. People who are liberal and conservative should support it. It is trans-ideological and bipartisan in nature. The liberal argument for open borders is very easy to defend. The best way to end poverty and lessen inequality is simply letting people move to places where they are more economically productive. For libertarians, the issue is equally straightforward. Migration restriction is nothing but a barrier to trade and personal freedom.
The case for conservatives is a little more subtle because there is no single intuition that motivates conservative critiques of migration. In my talk at Wellesley, I broke it down this way. Each bullet point merits a longer discussion, but I present the summary here:
- “Retail conservatives:” The rank and file conservative might oppose migration because immigrants reduce employment for natives, increase crime, or create undue stress on social services. In these cases, research either shows that there is simply no evidence to back it up or that negative effects are way, way overblown. Additionally, retail conservatives who promote family values and self-reliance should applaud immigrants because they improve their economic situation through hard work, not hand outs.
- “Philosophical conservatives:” There is a strand of more sophisticated, philosophical conservatives that are motivated by the writings of folks like Burke and Oakeshott. One might summarize their view as a suspicion of radical change and social engineering. If so, the they should vehemently oppose closed borders. What is more radical than drawing a line and proclaiming that people on one side can’t move to the other? Aren’t migration controls an attempt at social engineering by legislators? Don’t borders violate the organic social order of communities?
- “Cultural conservatives:” Some conservative migration critics are worried that migration might undermine the valuable things about Western culture. I think there are a few sensible responses. First, Western culture has survived socialism, fascism, communism and a whole lot more. America is much tougher than waves of low skilled labor. Second, in public opinion research, one often finds that migrants aren’t terribly different than natives in terms of political opinion. Third, Western societies tend to “chill out” migrants. If you want to decrease the anti-Western sentiment in the world, let people migrate to the West and their kids will be much less hostile than those back in the home country.
To sum up, there are a number of conservative criticisms of open borders and there are a lot of very intuitive and strong responses.