Open borders

When I argue about immigration policy with libertarians, we very quickly realize that we’re talking past each other.

The libertarian case for open borders goes like this: There are people in poor countries that want to come to rich countries. Preventing these poor folks from coming into a rich country is effectively forcing them to live in poverty. Allowing them to come to a rich country would make them richer, and therefore better off. After all, we’re all people – they’re just poor. Here’s Aretae stating is about this simply.

I can see this line of reasoning working if you favor immigration on a relatively small and selective scale, but in no way do I understand how this line of reasoning works for open borders.

The key question here is: if borders were really open, how many people would actually move to the US? As is so often the case, the only person who’s tried to answer the question is Steve Sailer.

Let’s round down a bit from these estimates and say that one billion relatively poor people move to the US.

It seems obvious to me that if a billion poor people moved to the US, conditions in the US would . . . deteriorate. I’d go so far as to argue that the world would end up a worse place without a rich and productive US. Therefore, we can’t have open borders, since it will make everyone worse off.


25 Responses to Open borders

  1. ve says:

    That last empirical claim is not justified. It might be true that, on average, everyone in the world would be better off with free-markets and open borders. It might not; we really can’t know. But when you are already a citizen in the richest country in the world, supporting open borders is simply retarded.

  2. Avice says:

    Is that really the libertarian case for open borders? I’ve never heard a libertarian claim it. Moreover, I thought you had read Hoppe’s D:TGTF and even reviewed it on this site. Many libertarians have been convinced that open borders are a bad idea, as long as and to the extent that a democratic state exists. Libertarians run the gamut on this question, Unless you’re talking about political activist “party Libertarians” in which case it’s not really important, since they are just reciting whatever they’ve been told to believe.

    But I agree that a case for…well…for *anything* based on a sum total of measured utilities is silly even by those standards.

    A quick google search brought me to what I think is a more typical “principled” libertarian stance:

  3. If one believes in democracy, and believes that democracy has a long future, it is obviously ludicrous to support open borders, since the voters from Latin America will vote to make the US like latin America, and the voters from the middle east will vote to make the US like Egypt, with the result that everyone will be far worse off, including the people who remain in latin America and Egypt with no advanced countries to supply them with advanced goods and protect them from their folly and from external predatory peoples.

    If, on the other hand, one believes that democracy is imminently doomed, and a good thing too, and the sooner it collapses the less damage will be suffered during the collapse, that “[pure] democracies have ever been spectacles of turbulence and contention; have ever been found incompatible with personal security, or the rights of property; and have in general been as short in their lives as they have been violent in their deaths.”

    Then it is entirely rational to favor open borders after democracy has ended and those of its advocates who have not put each other to the sword, have been stripped of all power and influence.

    Favoring open borders as part of expecting and intending the imminent end of democracy makes one a … there is no name for it. A reactionary libertarian? But that is a contradiction, for reactionaries support the bonds of tribes that no longer exist, and bonds of churches whose religions are corrupted and in which no one really believes, so reactionaries are generally not libertarians, since reactionaries favor non contractual bonds in a world where all bonds are already irrevocably broken and cannot be remade.

  4. asdf says:

    This get’s me thinking about a question I think I will cross post at Aretea.

    Aretea claims that he doesn’t understand tribalism or groupism. I propose that this is a selective impulse that only applies at middle tier in group levels (e.g. nation/community or “skip..skip” theory as some call it).

    Aretea clearly has a tribe: his family. His family is a unique social unit. We could call the borders his house. In trades with other social units (other families/society). Within the home Aretea is the sovereign (and maybe Mrs. Aretea).

    Aretea is a very well off individual. High income, high IQ, in great shape. Presumably his kids are very lucky to have him as a father. A good head of household.

    Aretea could remarkably improve the life of a third world person by bringing them into his family. Not just a little, but massively. If I can prove the net happiness of the world will increase if he does so, doesn’t he have a moral obligation? Why does his tribal loyalty end with his own family? I’ll even suppose the new entrant pays rent or something to simplify the charity argument.

    Presumably this benefit would apply to welcoming additional individuals. Why not adopt even more people into the family?

    Is there any argument as to where that should end? If such an argument works for his family, why not a nation?

    • Alex J. says:

      I don’t think Aretea is a utilitarian. (I think) he believes our in-group tribal instinct shouldn’t be conflated with our borders.

    • vishmehr24 says:

      A nation is not the same as a family. There are irreducible to each other. This is precisely the mistake libertarians make.

      • Alex J. says:

        I am not aware of any libertarians who think a nation is the same as a family.

      • vishmehr24 says:

        The libertarians reduce nation to s collection of families and family to a collection of individuals.

        This is a wrongheaded view. The family is more than a set of individuals. A family is individuals plus the family bonds.
        A nation is similarly individuals and families that the bound by patriotic and cultural bonds

    • Foseti says:

      Good points.

      I’m not sure tribalism is behind opposition to immigration though. I don’t have a lot of tribal loyalty to the modern US. I don’t want mass uncontrolled immigration because I don’t want to live in a third world country. I’ve been to some third world countries. They suck.

    • Fake Herzog says:

      I met Aretae in Chicago last year (or maybe two years ago) and while I think he’s a great guy and his kids are lucky to have him as a father, to be totally honest, he wasn’t in great shape at the time. Of course, I’m not in great shape either and could stand to lose a good 25 pounds, so who am I to talk — both Aretae and I love good food. If anyone else finds themselves in Chicago drop me a line — I’ll take you to some of the best places for good, moderately priced food and drink.

  5. CyniCAl says:

    Jacob Hornberger at FFF is a proponent of first principles as a foundation of morality. His argument is that humans have a natural right of freedom of movement and any restriction is immoral. My personal opinion is that he is correct. Who would admit that they truly accept being told where they can go?

    • The Anti-Gnostic says:

      I think you have a natural right not to have your neighbors wall you in and starve you to death. But short of that, property rights perforce mean that all movement off your own property requires the permission of other property owners.

      In a libertarian society, there would be no such thing as immigrants; only owners, licensees and trespassers.

      Private property owners restrict movement into their borders to enhance value. If an exclusive resort lets in everybody, it’s no longer “exclusive.” The resort guests who paid for the privilege have been cheated. In the same way, Americans whose ancestors forged a nation and bequeathed it to their children now see their stock devalued by government immigration and civil rights laws.

      • CyniCAl says:

        Not to quibble, I think we tend to agree, but I don’t think your two examples in the last graf are equivalent.

        But I do think your first graf is interesting. If the world were equally divided into parcels of private property and belonged equally to this or that person, then if everyone decided to not permit movement on his property, that would have the practical effect of being walled in and starved to death, which is a violation of natural rights in your opinion. So private property can actually subvert natural rights in the extreme case.

      • The Anti-Gnostic says:

        There is mutual self-interest in some inter-property movement, and, as noted, at common law you can’t wall your neighbor in and starve him to death. But government-controlled borders are just a tragedy of the commons. This is why libertarian calls for “open borders” in the current milieu are actually anti-libertarian.

  6. His argument is that humans have a natural right of freedom of movement and any restriction is immoral.

    Do they have a natural right to go someplace and then vote the locas stuff for themselves?

    • James James says:

      Allowing people to move to a country but not giving them votes is less objectional than giving them votes, but still objectional. There are two ways you can ruin a country, and voting is just one of them.

    • CyniCAl says:

      I consider voting a mild form of violence, but violence nonetheless, so I personally would answer “no” to your question. But that is not Hornberger’s opinion. He is a “rule of law” guy and a Constitutionalist, so perhaps his answer would be “yes,” I don’t know.

  7. bgc says:

    My hunch is that libertarians are misled on this because when you take individual people one at at time (marginal change), it is always advantageous to an individual from a poor country to have the choice to move to a richer country…

    because the effect of one extra individual will not make the host country significantly worse on average (the bigger the host country, the more that this is true), while for that specific individual their life will significantly improve.

    This is therefore one of the most direct and swift ways of alleviating human misery and promoting human happiness – it (apparently) benefits the individual without harming the collective.

    This form of individual/ marginal calculus is the bottom line for libertarians (such a Bryan Caplan) – therefore they will favour open-borders-type policies.

    Of course the calculus is clever silly, magical thinking, wilfully-blinkered, suicidally-self-destructive nonsense; but that is what they believe.

    They simply will not consider even the most common-sensical predictions of group effects.

    • Alex J. says:

      If what you say is true, it would be good to increase immigration by some amount, perhaps in certain ways, even while it might be bad to increase it without any limits.

      In fact, this kind of compromise is advocated by Bryan Caplan, in his econtalk podcast on immigration.

      The way I put it, is that if all other policies were as I would have them, free migration would be the obvious choice. Of course, policies are notably unlike my ideal, and hence there’s room for compromise.

  8. Tschafer says:

    But immigration is already having a negative effect on the West, so we should be reducing immigration, not increasing it. I agree that we need to compromise on immigration policy, but I can’t help but note that the “compromise” is alway up, not down, and there’s no reason why this should be.

  9. JB says:

    Steve Sailer is not the only person to try and address numbers, there’s a Gallup poll, for what it’s worth:

  10. jb writes

    If only educated affluent males with good credit ratings who were legitimate children of affluent males with good credit ratings born in America, then allowing the whole 700 million to migrate here would benefit everyone, and make the US the greatest and wealthiest power on earth by far. Most of the immigrants would reach and surpass our present standard of living.

    If, on the other hand, we allow the seven hundred million to come here and vote for welfare, they will vote to make the place like Egypt, like Latin America, and like Egypt, which will not only make us worse of, but will make them and those that remain in Egypt and such worse of, with no America to provide freedom, aid, and high tech products.

  11. I should have said
    If the only people allowed to vote were educated affluent males with good credit ratings who were legitimate children of affluent males with good credit ratings born in America

  12. […] – Selections from The Dark Enlightenment, Switzerland, Singapore, Sweden, Open Borders, Be More Like Berlin, Defining […]

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