Bryan Caplan would like to know how he could better argue in favor of open borders. What follows is a serious attempt to answer him. In sum, he should: 1) analyze the issue of immigration like an economist instead of like a religious fanatic and 2) start living as though he actually believes what he says.
Professor Caplan is at his most convincing when he thinks like an economist. Economics is a discipline of trade-offs. Every option – to the true economist – has trade-offs. In other, more famous words, there’s no such thing as a free lunch.
Unfortunately, Professor Caplan refuses to allow economic thinking into his treatment of open borders. Open borders, in his telling, have no trade-offs. They’re all upside all the time. I’ve read more nuanced discussions on the existence of God from priests (and really, believing in open borders seems to be as much a prerequisite for being an economics professor as belief in God is for being a priest).
In general, I find this sort of zealous thinking very unpersuasive. I’m up for a good discussion on any topic (indeed, I’ve changed my mind on most topics (including immigration) at one point or another), but you can’t argue with someone’s faith, and Professor Caplan’s belief in open borders seems to come down to faith.
Any zealous belief of this sort can easily be refuted by extreme examples (a trick I first learned from an economics professor, incidentally). Would it really be all awesomeness if the residents of Boystown immigrated to Riyadh? May I direct your attention to this Wikipedia page? Is this really an idea with no obvious downsides? Do these cities have nothing at all in common? Isn’t this just a little bit scary? How’s this working out?
I’m prepared to accept the case that many forms of immigration are good for many types of societies, but Professor Caplan’s arguments are orders of magnitude stronger than that. It’s not that hard to find some downsides to mass immigration. If you deny the existence of things that are easy to find, you’re not convincing.
The pro-mass-immigration position has a delightful built-in bullshit detector. Most people (and almost certainly Professor Caplan) could move a few miles from where they live and be in a community that is filled with more immigrants. This community is generally quite affordable relative to other communities.
Any people that talk in favor of mass immigration, but spend lots of extra money to live far away from immigrants are . . . in an awkward position. In general, I tend to believe peoples’ actions over their words.
Professor Caplan has previously admitted that he likes living in a bubble. For all intents and purposes this is the same as admitting that he doesn’t actually like living anywhere near the sort of people that he thinks should be immigrating into this country.
His distaste for living near the sort of immigrants he “wants” is understandable. Frankly, it’s something that the majority of Americans also don’t want . . . which is why they don’t favor mass immigration.
If Professor Caplan really wants to be convincing, he could move. He’d save a lot of money too.