Last September, I started arguing with Dan Klein about open borders. After his initial salvo, “Open Borders Is a Terrible Slogan,” I replied, then he replied, then I replied again. Now I’m giving him the last word. Enjoy!
Bryan has graciously engaged in an exchange with me on open borders (DK1, BC1, DK2, BC2) and offered me the last word.
Bryan psychologizes me a bit. That is natural and appropriate. “Frankness and openness conciliate confidence,” said Adam Smith. We naturally psychologize one another. Ad hominem arguments have their place. Friends tell friends what they need to hear, not what they want to hear.
Dan, you’re rarely agnostic on almost any other policy issue. Why here? Ultimately, it’s hard not to think that you simply don’t care much about the liberty of people who weren’t born in the First World. Correct me if I’m wrong, but you seem much more worried about Swedes losing their culture than about Syrians trapped in wretched war zones. (boldface added).
The existence of a First World is a blessing not only to those living there at present, but to those living in the Second World and the Third World, and not only because it gives them a place to try to escape to.
As for my promoting liberty, there are a number of reasons I’ve focused on the so-called First World (the erstwhile First World?). But I’ve lent a hand in promoting liberty in the Second and Third Worlds (e.g., 1, 2).
My friend Bryan lets libertarian precepts blind him from civilizational issues that his manner of discoursing isn’t suited to address. Notice the strange use he makes of Tocqueville (search on “Tocq”). And Bryan bites the open-borders bullet for Sweden and New Zealand. Does what Bryan says reassure you about what the state of “First World” norms would be after 30 years of open borders in Sweden and New Zealand?
Bryan’s niche libertarianism blinds him from understanding the following words from David Hume: “[L]iberty is the perfection of civil society; but still authority must be acknowledged essential to its very existence.” The authority that Hume refers to depends on spirits alive in and among people. Political legitimacy and political decency are mutually dependent, and not hardy weeds. As they falter and deteriorate, so does liberty, as Hume indicated and history teaches. Libertarian insights and argumentation contribute little to understanding what Hume means. Bryan looks at data spanning decades and assures us: “(a) the positives of open borders are massive, and (b) the negatives look trivial by comparison.” But the spirits span generations, centuries, even millennia. Have libertarians like Bryan, Ben Powell, and Alex Nowrasteh learned what our friends Burke and Tocqueville try to tell us? If libertarians say little about authority, it is not because it is of little importance, but because they are little able. Indeed, many libertarians, including Bryan, Michael Huemer, and Murray Rothbard, equate such authority with ordinary robbery and extortion, and tend toward what Jon Diesel and I call jural monism. A blind spot opens the way for open borders.
Again, Bryan writes: “Dan, you’re rarely agnostic on almost any other policy issue. Why here?” I indicate “Why here?” in expounding conservative liberalism (see 1, 2, 3), the best classical liberalism. Liberty depends on authority which depends on stable, semi-functional, coherent polity. When a liberalization threatens polity stability and functionality, agnosticism is due. For liberalizations, the presumption of liberty is tempered by the presumption of the status quo, especially when polity issues are in play.
Bryan has heard me talk about the direct-liberty principle and the overall-liberty principle and about how those two principles sometimes disagree (1, 2, 3). He does not seem to see the problem or take it seriously (in his last he launches into a red herring about me on overall liberty, as though I equate it with desirability).
The noun in the expression “conservative liberalism” is liberalism. The adjective conservative modifies the noun. Thus, I am not throwing the liberty baby out with the bathwater.
In 1893, in the Quarterly Journal of Economics, the classical liberal Simon Newcomb explained that students need to be taught liberal precepts, to see the limits of such precepts, and yet see that such limits must not lead us to throw the baby out with the bathwater:
It is not claimed that such propositions [about the beneficialness of liberalization] should be taught dogmatically, as if they were theorems of geometry. Not only should their limitations be pointed out, when necessary, but the student should be encouraged to find or even to imagine conditions under which the maxims would fail. In doing this, the vice he should be taught to avoid is that of concluding that because he can imagine a state of things under which a maxim would fail, therefore it is worthless.
What exactly do you expect all these low IQ immigrants to do all day?
Let's say I bought that these low skill workers had some comparative advantage, and weren't just having their labor subsidized by the state (you pay for your cheap house cleaning through higher property and income taxes).
How many times does my house need to get cleaned a day?
How many nail salons can a town support?
Wouldn't there be diminishing returns to the value of their low skill manual labor as the supply increases to essentially infinity (billions of people move under open borders)?
What if the value of their labor in this scenario ended up being below whatever standard the state has deemed "impoverished"? Would they not then automatically end up becoming wards of the state? Would they not vote to maintain such benefits for themselves?
During immigration discussions, I'm often reminded of an essay by Peruvian writer and freedom advocate Mario Vargas Llosa, titled "Children of Columbus." (It's easily searched.) In it he contends, for a reason you can learn by reading it, that Latin Americans have difficulty distinguishing fiction from fact. That has been my experience during many years associating with Latins in the US as the long-time husband of a Guatemalan. I presently live in Mexico, have spent lengthy time in Guatemala, and lived in Puerto Rico for 6 years. Being legal Americans has not prevented Puerto Ricans from having a high percentage of workers employed by government and having a notoriously corrupt society. Can we not use PR as a case study? Corrupt Mexico and even more corrupt Guatemala reflect the customs and beliefs of their populations, not just the empowerment of ruling classes who have happened to seize power. Southern Florida, dominated first by Cuban immigrants (and descendants), and now by a spectrum of Latins, is another case study of Latin cultures transplanted to the US, and the habitual corruption of area politics is noteworthy. I have had mostly fine experiences with Latins, in and out of the US, but I have gotten used to verifying rather than trusting.
By some measures the Latins I've known have assimilated well. They buy big TVs, trade thanksgiving tamales for turkeys, and generally don't tangle with the law. But their familism and habits of duplicity remain, and these, I can attest, have a socially subversive effect.
My own disposition is to support liberal legal immigration, with very open worker policies. And I don't think immigration policies should favor intellectual workers. (Incidentally, it's distressing to see how Thomas Sowell, who documented the success of unskilled immigrants, has become a supporter of policies favoring educated immigrants, and borders on nativism.) But I can't bring myself to support open borders, since I'm confident that the anti-assimilationists do interfere with the natural process of blending.