The modal question about Open Borders is, “Do you talk about X?” The answer is “YES” for all of the following…
1. Do you talk about the historical pattern of global poverty rates?
2. Do you talk about people’s attachment to their country of birth?
3. Do you talk about overcrowding?
4. Do you talk about the global poor’s ability to function in a modern society?
5. Do you talk about global apartheid?
6. Do you talk about the level of illegal immigration?
7. Do you talk about human smuggling?
8. Do you talk about the effectiveness of immigration law at preventing and deterring illegal immigration?
9. Do you talk about immigration as a civil right?
10. Do you talk about whether the plight of the immigrant is our problem?
11. Do you talk about whether there is a right to immigrate?
12. Do you talk about whether this right is absolute?
13. Do you talk about America’s open borders era?
14. Do you talk about how America’s open borders era ended?
15. Do you talk about the potential dangers of open borders?
16. Do you talk about whether we should look before we leap?
17. Do you talk about the Antarctican farmer hypothetical?
18. Do you talk about the connection between mass consumption and mass production?
19. Do you talk about the benefits of immigration for immigrants?
20. Do you talk about the benefits of immigration for natives?
21. Do you talk about how much immigration actually helps immigrants?
22. Do you talk about why immigration helps immigrants?
23. Do you talk about how much a trillion dollars of gains really buys?
24. Do you talk about whether open borders is “trickle-down economics”?
25. Do you talk about how immigration affects native workers?
26. Do you talk about how immigration affects you personally?
27. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on average national incomes?
28. Do you talk about the Arithmetic Fallacy?
29. Do you talk about what open borders would really look like?
30. Do you talk about the effect of open borders on the visibility of poverty?
31. Do you talk about “swamping”?
32. Do you talk about diaspora dynamics?
33. Do you talk about Puerto Rico?
34. Do you talk about brain drain?
35. Do you talk about what good for places versus what’s good for people?
36. Do you talk about zombie economies?
37. Do you talk about how immigration’s fiscal effects vary by immigrant skill?
38. Do you talk about whether open borders and the welfare state are compatible?
39. Do you talk about rival versus non-rival government services?
40. Do you talk about how welfare states prioritize the old versus the poor?
41. Do you talk about the cost of educating immigrants’ children?
42. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on the sustainability of retirement systems?
43. Do you talk about the best way to measure immigrants’ overall fiscal effects?
44. Do you talk about Net Present Value?
45. Do you talk about empirical estimates of immigrants’ overall fiscal effects?
46. Do you talk about whether more immigration is likely to save Social Security and Medicare?
47. Do you talk about empirical estimates of immigrants’ overall fiscal effects as a function of their education and age?
48. Do you talk about Milton Friedman’s arguments against open borders?
49. Do you talk about the parallels between the fiscal effects of native births versus immigration?
50. Do you talk about how human beings value their cultures?
51. Do you talk about the value of Western civilization?
52. Do you talk about the cultural dangers of admitting non-Western immigrants?
53. Do you talk about terrorism, mass rape, human trafficking, Sharia, and the decline of English?
54. Do you talk about numeracy?
55. Do you talk about the statistics of terrorism, including the share of terrorism committed by foreigners?
56. Do you talk about the Skittles argument against refugees?
57. Do you talk about immigrant crime rates?
58. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on overall crime rates?
59. Do you talk about the “What if it happened to you?” objection to statistical evidence?
60. Do you talk about first-generation immigrant language acquisition?
61. Do you talk about later-generation immigrant language acquisition?
62. Do you talk about immigrant assimilation across generations?
63. Do you talk about how modernity makes assimilation slower?
64. Do you talk about how modernity makes assimilation faster?
65. Do you talk about the social importance of trust?
66. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on national trust?
67. Do you talk about trust assimilation?
68. Do you talk about how much trust a successful society needs?
69. Do you talk about the cultural benefits of immigration?
70. Do you talk about immigrants’ desire for freedom?
71. Do you talk about immigrants’ disdain for freedom?
72. Do you talk about the danger that immigrants will vote to “kill the goose that lays the golden eggs”?
73. Do you talk about how Democratic immigrant voters are?
74. Do you talk about Indian-American voting?
75. Do you talk about immigrants’ specific policy views?
76. Do you talk about how immigrants’ specific policy views vary by education?
77. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on actual government policy?
78. Do you talk about immigrants’ political assimilation?
79. Do you talk about whether immigrants undermine natives’ support for the welfare state?
80. Do you talk about “Magic Dirt”?
81. Do you talk about research on “Deep Roots”?
82. Do you talk about whether Deep Roots research shows that “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” are illusory?
83. Do you talk about national IQ?
84. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on national IQ?
85. Do you talk about whether you’re virtue signaling?
86. Do you talk about whether IQ research shows that “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” are illusory?
87. Do you talk about the effect of immigration on immigrants’ IQs?
88. Do you talk about human genetics?
89. Do you talk about “keyhole solutions”?
90. Do you talk about imposing admission fees and surtaxes on immigrants to help less-fortune natives?
91. Do you talk about why tax-and-transfer schemes are any better than simple exclusion?
92. Do you talk about restricting immigrants’ eligibility for government benefits?
93. Do you talk about requiring immigrants to learn English?
94. Do you talk about requiring immigrants to acquire cultural literacy?
95. Do you talk about the dangers of Islam?
96. Do you talk about Muslim bans?
97. Do you talk about keyhole solutions for the dangers of Islam?
98. Do you talk about restricting immigrant voting rights?
99. Do you talk about the political feasibility of keyhole solutions?
100. Do you talk about the bracero program?
101. Do you talk about H-1Bs and other work visas?
102. Do you talk about the fairness of keyhole solutions?
103. Do you talk about Sodom and Gomorrah?
104. Do you talk about what utilitarians, egalitarians, libertarians, wealth-maximizers, meritocrats, Christians, and Kantian should think about open borders?
105. Do you talk about whether immigrants have a right to immigrate to your house?
106. Do you talk about who Jesus would deport?
107. Do you talk about the connection between open borders and socialism?
108. Do you talk about immigration and political polarization?
109. Do you talk about why conservatives should favor open borders?
110. Do you talk about why liberals should favor open borders?
111. Do you talk about citizenism?
112. Do you talk about Trump’s views and policies?
113. Do you talk about the best argument against open borders?
114. Do you talk about whether any human is illegal?
115. Do you talk about the best way to frame the immigration debate?
116. Do you talk about immigration as charity?
117. Do you talk about immigration as justice and abundance?
118. Do you talk about open borders with Canada?
119. Do you talk about why you talk so much about the United States?
120. Do you talk about whether you hate America?
121. Do you talk about earlier cosmopolitan transformations?
122. Do you talk about Brexit?
123. Do you talk about public opinion on immigration?
124. Do you talk about scaring people with extremism?
125. Do you talk about the Overton Window?
126. Do you talk about whether open borders is another crazy Ivory Tower Proposal?
127. Do you talk about how to get there from here?
128. Do you have endnotes? Lots of them?
129. Do you have references? Lots of them?
130. Do you have acknowledgements? Lots of them?
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My older children attend a self-directed learning center for unschoolers a couple of days a week. I love to hear the stories they share about what they do during the day. Classes are offered and are generated based on the young people’s interests, but they are entirely voluntary. Kids can attend classes or do their own projects, either independently or collaboratively, during what is known as “open hangout.” No one directs the hangout. Adults are present to facilitate and help if needed, but they don’t orchestrate the children’s work and play. The kids are free to create at will.
One creation that has been ongoing for months during open hangout is the development of a marketplace and its associated currency, known as myafo. It turns out, some of the kids want to tax the businesses in the marketplace “because that is how it is.”The kids create myafo using crayons and hot glue to make colorful, round gems and then use this currency to “buy” items that are produced for sale in the myafo marketplace. It’s been interesting to hear about the evolution of this economy and its unit of exchange, including the successes and setbacks.
Lately, as the marketplace gains popularity among the young people at the learning center, there have been discussions about creating a central bank and the potential issues related to that. There have also been conversations about power and control. Not surprisingly, one discussion that piqued my interest related to taxes. It turns out, some of the kids want to tax the businesses in the marketplace “because that is how it is.”
Others have more magnanimous reasons for taxation, such as using the taxes as a method of charity to allow kids who are new to the center, or who attend irregularly, to fully participate in the marketplace by receiving an allotment of myafo out of the collected taxes. It was called a charity tax. Some children disagreed with the tax idea and suggested that everyone be encouraged to voluntarily donate some of their myafo to help the newcomers. After all, forced generosity isn’t charity; it’s coercion.
It will be interesting to see how the myafo marketplace matures and how the kids address conflicts related to their growing economy. The issues they grapple with are big, and even we adults haven’t figured them out in real life. I am glad to see that dialogue and debate are central to the young people’s decision-making and that it is all completely child-driven. Trade is a fundamental process of human betterment.The kids, who range in age from about six to 14, created this project all on their own, with no adult prompting and no adult interference. It reveals how the idea of peaceful, voluntary cooperation through trade is something humans gravitate toward. Indeed, they have for millennia.
The history of trade dates to prehistoric times, as individuals sought to improve their well-being through trade. Someone has something to barter or sell that someone else wants to barter or buy, and both parties are better off as a result of the exchange. Trade is a fundamental process of human betterment. As it has spread during modern times, particularly when unencumbered by kings, dictators, and other central powers, free trade has led to growing global prosperity and astonishing reductions in poverty.
FEE’s Dan Sanchez goes so far as to say trade is what makes us human and quotes Adam Smith, who wrote in The Wealth of Nations of humans’ “propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” Smith continues:
It is common to all men, and to be found in no other race of animals, which seem to know neither this nor any other species of contracts. (…) Nobody ever saw a dog make a fair and deliberate exchange of one bone for another with another dog. Nobody ever saw one animal by its gestures and natural cries signify to another, this is mine, that yours; I am willing to give this for that.
If you or your children are curious about the history of money and exchange, I highly recommend this Outschool.com class taught by Tom Bogle, as well as the Netflix original series Origins and its episode on “Money, Banks, and The Stock Market.” And definitely check out FEE’s fantastic Common Sense Soapbox episode “Voluntary Trade is Win-Win!”
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Lancelot: Your rage has unbalanced you. You, sir, would fight to the death, against a knight who is not your enemy. Over a stretch of road you could easily ride around.
Arthur: So be it. To the death!
Question #1: How many times in your life have you lost a friend because one of you malevolently decided to hurt the other?
Question #2: How many times in your life have you lost a friend over a misunderstanding?
I am glad to report that I have lost few friends in my life. But as far as I can tell, all of the rare exceptions were driven by misunderstandings. Someone spoke rashly, which hurt someone’s feelings, which led to retaliation, which led to more hurt feelings, and so on. Or, someone acted as they thought proper, but someone else perceived otherwise, which led to offense, which led to counter-offense. The same goes for all the people I know well. They’ve lost many friends, but years later they flounder to explain the casus belli.
Is my corner of the world unusually free of sheer evil? Probably. Still, I doubt my experience is unusual. I bet that most readers have lost at least five times as many friends to misunderstandings as they have to malevolence.
How can you tell the difference between malevolence and misunderstanding? Try this a helpful thought experiment. Imagine both sides calmly describe what they saw with their own eyes and heard with their own ears to a neutral outsider. If the outsider would tell both sides to forget the dispute and stay friends, you had a misunderstanding. If the outsider would say, “This is a bad match,” you still had a misunderstanding; just one that’s likely to recur. But if the outsider would tell one of you, “Get away from this toxic person,” you saw – or were – malevolence.*
Why appeal to “neutral outsiders”? Well, the main reason misunderstandings arise is because most human beings rush to assume malevolence. Indeed, this is built into the very concept of the “misunderstanding”! Sure, I sometimes speak rashly. Sure, I’m no mind reader. When my friends speak rashly to me, or fail to understand my feelings, however, the default explanation is not that they spoke hastily or failed to see the world from my perspective. The default explanation is that they consciously decided to make me suffer.
Yes, it’s childish to think this way. But what can I say? People are childish.
Small example: Friday I was shopping with my sons. My back was hurting, so they were pushing the cart. When I got in line, a women immediately pulled up her cart behind me. By this point, my sons were ten feet away. When I asked her to make room for our cart, she grew angry: “Well that’s strange!” Even my highly visible back brace was not enough to make her wonder about my situation. When I meekly got out of the way and offered to let her go ahead of me, she huffed and moved to the next lane. To me, this was a textbook example of a misunderstanding. Still, I suspect she went home and told her family about how awful I was. I made the effort to understand where she was coming from, but somehow she gazed into the heart of a total stranger and saw malevolence.
You could object, “Yours is hardly an original point. Parents and teachers routinely alert children to the risk of misunderstandings.” Fair enough. My claim, however, is that this lesson rarely sinks in. Adults remain prone to misinterpret mere misunderstandings as malevolence. Indeed, there are mighty social and political movements that angrily strive to amplify this error – to ascribe malevolence recklessly, and demean those to ask us to mimic the perspective of a neutral outsider when conflict arises.
These days, the Me Too movement is the highest-profile example. When you carefully listen to the public accusations, their severity varies tremendously. The case of Bill Cosby is light-years from the cases of Louie C.K. or Aziz Ansari. Is it possible that the latter two celebrities were involved in misunderstandings that bizarrely became national crises? Entirely possible. But most Me Too activists don’t just gloss over this possibility; they view those who muse, “Maybe it’s all a big misunderstanding” with hostility. At risk of creating a new misunderstanding, my reaction to most Me Too scandals is precisely, “Maybe it’s all a big misunderstanding.” Indeed, I maintain that we should presume that conflicts are misunderstandings in the absence of strong evidence to the contrary.
How far should we apply this insight? Far indeed. Even tiny slights, uncharitably interpreted, often spiral out of control. So let us assess behavior with perspective and charity. Much conflict between Democrats and Republicans rests on misunderstandings. Much of the conflict between Black Lives Matter and Blue Lives Matter conflict rests on misunderstandings. So does much of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Indeed, part of the reason why I’m a pacifist that so many international conflicts are plainly rooted in misunderstandings. (If you can’t wait to scoff, “So the Nazis just had a big misunderstanding with the rest of Europe?,” you are fostering a misunderstanding between us. Over a stretch of road you could easily ride around).
If we fully accepted the prevalence of misunderstandings, couldn’t a malevolent person take advantage of us? I’m afraid so. Fortunately, that’s a minor danger compared to the opposite mistake. Remember: When you lose a friend over a misunderstanding, you don’t merely mistreat a friend. You deprive yourself of friendship in a lonely world.
* A worse, but still tolerably good rule of thumb: If your own complaints against your former friend seem less compelling to you years later, you probably had a misunderstanding. If your complaints actually seem more compelling years later, malevolence is more plausible.Open This Content
Dan Moller’s Governing Least barely mentions immigration. But it should have, because of its strong implications for this hugely important issue. Applying Moller’s approach, there is not only a moral presumption in favor of open borders, but a host of residual obligations that accompany even justified restrictions on immigration.
Recall that Moller’s libertarianism highlights the effrontery of extra-libertarian moral demands:
Imagine calling a town hall meeting and delivering the following speech:
My dear assembled citizens: I know most of us are strangers, but of late I have fallen on hard times through no fault of my own, by sheer bad luck. My savings are low, and I don’t have friends or family to help. Now as you know, I’ve previously asked for help from you as private citizens, as a matter of charity. But unfortunately that hasn’t been sufficient. Thus, I’m here now to insist that you (yes you, Emma, and you, John) owe me assistance as a matter of justice. It is a deep violation if you don’t work additional hours, take fewer vacations if need be, live in a smaller house, or send your kids to a worse school, in order to help me. Failing to do so is no less an injustice than failing to pay your debts.
Moreover, calling this an injustice means that it’s not enough that you comply with your obligations by working on my behalf. No, I insist that you help me to force your fellow citizens to assist me. It doesn’t matter if these others say to you that they need the money for their own purposes, that they prefer worthier causes, or if they’re just hard-hearted and don’t care. To the extent you care about justice, you must help me to force these others to assist me whether they wish to or not, since that is what is owed me in light of my recent bad luck.
Could you bring yourself to make this speech?
But Governing Least also gives this imaginary speech a libertarian foil:
Compare, then, a similar speech advancing a different substantive claim:My dear assembled citizens: of late, some of you have been stealing my money. I’m here now to insist that you (yes you, Emma, and you, John) give it back. This means that you owe me thousands of dollars which you stole. It’s a deep violation if you don’t work additional hours, take fewer vacations if need be, live in a smaller house, or send your kids to a worse school, in order to pay me back what you stole. Failing to do so is no less an injustice than failing to pay your debts. Moreover, calling this an injustice means that it’s not enough that you comply with your obligations by working on my behalf to repay me what you’ve stolen. No, I insist that you help me to force the thieves among you to pay restitution. It doesn’t matter if these thieves say to you that they need the money for their own purposes, that they prefer worthier causes, or that they’re just hard- hearted and don’t care. To the extent you care about justice, you must help me to force these others to repay me what they stole.
No one is likely to be embarrassed by this variant. Even if we are shy and uncomfortable about confronting others in public speeches, there is nothing strange about the idea of giving such a speech, or about someone giving it. To the extent there is a problem with the first speech it lies not in its manner but its substance.
When a foreigner demands his right to work for a willing domestic employer or rent from a willing domestic landlord, it closely parallels the second speech. The only out is to appeal to the very “emergent moral powers of the state” that Moller decisively rejects:
Essentially, the issue is whether there are emergent moral powers of the state — permissions that the state enjoys that mere individuals do not. It is an important assumption in some of my arguments that we can compare the actions of the state to the actions of individuals, and that objections to what individuals or groups of individuals do to us by way of infringing our rights can be objections to what the state does, assuming the circumstances and grounds of infringement are similar. I will assume, that is, that it makes sense to ask such questions as, “Could I and my friends break down your door and compel you to give us your money for reason X under circumstances Y?” and to draw conclusions about what the state may do. We can call this the non- emergence assumption.
Since it would be normally be morally wrong for my friends and I to exile someone for being born in a different country, it is also normally wrong for governments to do so. In other words, Moller’s work implies an open borders presumption. Furthermore, even if the consequences of immigration were sufficient to surmount this presumption, regulators must mind Moller’s residual obligations:
I propose the following non-exhaustive list of residual obligations for cases like Emergency:
Restitution: although I didn’t do wrong, I must repay the $1,000 if possible, perhaps in reasonable installments.
Compensation: to the extent you are otherwise harmed by my actions, I should attempt to compensate you. For instance, if I smashed your windows getting in or forced you to incur some loss because you had to come home at short notice, I must compensate you at some reasonable rate.
Sympathy: it is incumbent on me to convey, if not an apology for my (permissible) actions, at least sympathy for the harm I have caused you. (“I’m very sorry I had to do that” would be the natural if slightly misleading phrase.) I cannot offer a Gallic shrug at your distress and announce, “I did nothing wrong— it’s your problem” as you survey the wreckage of your home. To do so would exhibit a serious character flaw.
Responsibility: my obligations are not just backward looking, but forward looking. If I can reasonably foresee that some action of mine will put me in the position of facing an emergency that will then render it permissible to harm you, I must take responsibility to avoid such actions if possible. I should not think that I have less reason to take responsibility because I can avoid harms by transferring them to you instead. And failing to take responsibility weakens my claim to impose costs on others when the time comes.
So even when immigration regulations are morally justified responses to dire consequences, governments cannot legitimately restrict immigration unless they also:
a. Pay restitution/compensation to innocents denied admission.
b. Earnestly apologize to innocents denied admission.
c. Scrupulously eschew policies that give immigration dire consequences. For example, governments cannot rightfully refuse immigration on the grounds that, “Our welfare state is so generous that you would be a big net fiscal burden.” Even if this is true, Moller’s framework places the blame on the governments that create dangerously generous welfare states in the first place. Once a government adopts these irresponsible policies, they have no right to “avoid harms by transferring them” to immigrants.
To repeat, I’m the one using Moller’s approach to morally assess immigration. He focuses almost entirely on the welfare state, mentioning immigration only in passing. To my mind, this is doubly unfortunate because…
First, the harm of the welfare state, though serious, is minor compared to the harm of immigration restriction. Denying billions of desperately poor people the right to move to opportunity is far worse than forcing hundreds of millions of fortunate people to “donate” a quarter of their income.
Second, it reinforces the false stereotype that libertarianism disregards the rights of the poor. When the U.S. government jails families for the “crime” of seeking asylum, an exclusive focus on the evils of programs like TANF and SNAP really does reveal a major moral blind spot. Since Moller reads abundant empirical research, moreover, he can’t easily plead ignorance of the facts.
Fortunately, Moller can remedy this situation… by writing a follow-up article on the ethics of immigration. He totally should.Open This Content
This episode features an audio essay written by economics professor and Austro-libertarian Walter Block from 1976, and which comprises Chapter 18 of Defending the Undefendable. Purchase books by Walter Block on Amazon here.Open This Content