Sure, we all know that the Greek pantheon – Zeus, Hera, Aphrodite, Hades, Ares, Athena, Artemis, Demeter, Dionysus, and the rest – don’t *really* exist.
But there is a reason people chose these characters to personify their understanding of the world. As psychologist Jordan Peterson points out, each god (in all of his or her power and pettiness) represents some of the fundamental human drives or attributes – sex, intelligence, wrath, independence.
The old Greek pantheon is a sophisticated way for understanding the complex human mind, which is home to many powerful needs and drives that sometimes act like personalities.
Like the gods of legend, these “gods” of our personality don’t like people who spurn them. And it doesn’t take a long look into Greek mythology to know that the gods do awful things to people they don’t like. Afflictions of madness, afflictions of lust, transformation into animals – it’s not pretty.
Aren’t fighting for your rights, your ideas, or your self-respect? You are neglecting Ares (the god of war) and he will exact his sacrifice someway. Usually this will look like a gradual building resentment, with an explosion of anger toward someone who doesn’t deserve it at a time it’s not called for.
Aren’t honoring or expressing your own sexuality? You may be offending Aphrodite (who brought about the downfall of Heracles – so not someone to be messed with). She’ll have her due, in uncontrolled, warped, or frustrated desire.
Aren’t preserving your independence and purity? Giving in to the crowd? Surrendering what makes you unique? In a sense you are offending the virgin goddess Artemis, who is perhaps the scariest of them all (she’ll turn you into a stag and have your own hounds kill you).
It’s all imagination, I know. But I still find it interesting to think of my own drives or needs as personalities. With personalities, at least we can bargain. We can make the sacrifices that all good Greeks knew to make. And we can remember that neglecting any of the gods has terrible consequences.
Tearing down all barriers to migration isn’t crazy—it’s an opportunity for a global boom.
The world’s nations, especially the world’s richest nations, are missing an enormous chance to do well while doing good. The name of this massive missed opportunity—and the name of my book on the topic—is “open borders.”
Critics of immigration often hyperbolically accuse their opponents of favoring open borders—a world where all nationalities are free to live and work in any nation they like. For most, that’s an unfair label: They want more visas for high-skilled workers, family reunification, or refugees—not the end of immigration restrictions. In my case, however, this accusation is no overstatement. I think that free trade in labor is a massive missed opportunity. Open borders are not only just but the most promising shortcut to global prosperity.
To see the massive missed opportunity of which I speak, consider the migration of a low-skilled Haitian from Port-au-Prince to Miami. In Haiti, he would earn about $1,000 per year. In Miami, he could easily earn $25,000 per year. How is such upward mobility possible? Simply put: Human beings are much more productive in Florida than in Haiti—thanks to better government policies, better management, better technology, and much more. The main reason Haitians suffer in poverty is not because they are from Haiti but because they are in Haiti. If you were stuck in Haiti, you, too, would probably be destitute.
But borders aren’t just a missed opportunity for those stuck on the wrong side on them. If the walls come down, almost everyone benefits because immigrants sell the new wealth they create—and the inhabitants of their new country are their top customers. As long as Haitians remain in Haiti, they produce next to nothing—and therefore do next to nothing to enrich the rest of the world. When they move, their productivity skyrockets—and so does their contribution to their new customers. When you see a Haitian restaurant in Miami, you shouldn’t picture the relocation of a restaurant from Port-au-Prince; you should picture the creation of a restaurant that otherwise would never have existed—not even in Haiti itself.
The central function of existing immigration laws is to prevent this wealth creation from happening—to trap human talent in low-productivity countries. Out of all the destructive economic policies known to man, nothing on Earth is worse. I’m not joking. Standard estimates say open borders would ultimately double humanity’s wealth production. How is this possible? Because immigration sharply increases workers’ productivity—and the world contains many hundreds of millions of would-be immigrants. Multiply a massive gain per person by a massive number of people and you end up with what the economist Michael Clemens calls “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk.”
Or do we? An old saying warns, “If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” Far lower levels of immigration already inspire vocal complaints. After presenting my basic case in Open Borders, I strive to evaluate all the common (and many not-so-common) objections to immigration. My bottom line: While open borders are undeniably unpopular, they deserve to be popular. Like every social change, immigration has downsides. Yet when we patiently quantify the downsides, the trillions of dollars of gains of open borders dwarf any credible estimate of the harms.
The simplest objection to open borders is logistical: Even the largest countries cannot absorb hundreds of millions of immigrants overnight. True enough, but no reasonable person expects hundreds of millions to come overnight, either. Instead, immigration usually begins slowly and then snowballs. Puerto Ricans have been legally allowed to move to the United States since 1904, but it took almost a century before Puerto Ricans in the United States came to outnumber the population left on the island. Wasn’t the European migration crisis an unmanageable flood of humanity? Hardly. Despite media outcry, total arrivals from 2014 to 2018 came to less than 1 percent of the population of the European Union. Many European countries—most notably West Germany during the Cold War—have swiftly absorbed much larger inflows in the past.
The standard explanation for these asymmetric public reactions is that resistance to immigration is primarily cultural and political, not economic or logistical. While West Germans welcomed millions of East German migrants, a much lower dose of Middle Eastern and African migration has made the whole EU shiver. Aren’t economists who dwell on economic gains just missing the point?
Yes and no. As a matter of political psychology, cultural and political arguments against immigration are indeed persuasive and influential. That does not show, however, that these arguments are correct or decisive. Does immigration really have the negative cultural and political effects critics decry? Even if it did, are there cheaper and more humane remedies than immigration restriction? In any case, what is a prudent price tag to put on these cultural and political effects?
Let’s start with readily measurable cultural and political effects. In the United States, the most common cultural complaint is probably that—in contrast to the days of Ellis Island—today’s immigrants fail to learn English. The real story, though, is that few first-generation immigrants have ever become fluent in adulthood; it’s just too hard. German and Dutch immigrants in the 19th century maintained their stubborn accents and linguistic isolation all their lives; New York’s Yiddish newspapers were a fixture for decades. For their sons and daughters, however, acquiring fluency is child’s play—even for groups like Asians and Hispanics that are often accused of not learning English.
Native-born citizens also frequently worry that immigrants, supposedly lacking Western culture’s deep respect for law and order, will be criminally inclined. At least in the United States, however, this is the reverse of the truth. The incarceration rate of the foreign-born is about a third less than that of the native-born.
What about the greatest crime of all—terrorism? In the United States, non-citizens have indeed committed 88 percent of all terrorist murders. When you think statistically, however, this is 88 percent of a tiny sum. In an average year from 1975 to 2017, terrorists murdered fewer than a hundred people on U.S. soil per year. Less than 1 percent of all deaths are murders, and less than 1 percent of all murders are terrorism-related. Worrying about terrorism really is comparable to worrying about lightning strikes. After you take a few common-sense precautions—do not draw a sword during a thunderstorm—you should just focus on living your life.
The most cogent objection to immigration, though, is that productivity depends on politics—and politics depend on immigration. Native-born citizens of developed countries have a long track record of voting for the policies that made their industries thrive and their countries rich. Who knows how vast numbers of new immigrants would vote? Indeed, shouldn’t we expect people from dysfunctional polities to bring dysfunctional politics with them?
These are fine questions, but the answers are not alarming. At least in the United States, the main political division between the native- and foreign-born is engagement. Even immigrants legally able to vote are markedly less likely than native-born citizens to exercise this right. In the 2012 U.S. presidential election, for example, 72 percent of eligible native-born citizens voted versus just 48 percent of eligible immigrants. Wherever they politically stand, then, immigrants’ opinions are relatively inert.
In any case, immigrants’ political opinions don’t actually stand out. On average, they’re a little more economically liberal and a little more socially conservative, and that’s about it. Yes, low-skilled immigrants’ economic liberalism and social conservatism are more pronounced, but their turnout is low; in 2012, only 27 percent of those eligible to vote opted to do so. So while it would not be alarmist to think that immigration will slightly tilt policy in an economically liberal, socially conservative direction, warning that “immigrants will vote to kill the goose that lays the golden eggs” is paranoid.
Note, moreover, that free immigration hardly implies automatic citizenship. Welcoming would-be migrants is a clear-cut blessing for them and the world. Granting citizenship is more of a mixed bag. While I am personally happy to have new citizens, I often dwell on the strange fact that the Persian Gulf monarchies are more open to immigration than almost anywhere else on Earth. According to the Pew Research Center, 76 percent of people in Kuwait—and 88 percent in the United Arab Emirates—are foreign-born. Why do the native-born tolerate this? Probably because the Gulf monarchies generously share their oil wealth with citizens—and jealously protect the value of citizenship by making naturalization almost impossible. You do not have to ignore the Gulf monarchies’ occasional mistreatment of immigrants to realize that it is much better to welcome immigrants with conditions than to refuse to admit them at all. Migrants—mostly from much poorer parts of the Islamic world—accept this deal, however unfair, exactly because they can still do far better in the Gulf than at home.
In Open Borders, I have the space to address many more concerns about immigration in more detail. What I can’t do, I confess, is address the unmeasured and the unmeasurable. In real life, however, everyone routinely copes with ambiguous dangers—“unknown unknowns.” How do we cope?
For starters, we remember Chicken Little. When people’s warnings about measured dangers turn out to be wrong or overstated, we rightly discount their warnings about unmeasured and unmeasurable dangers. This is how I see mainstream critics of immigration. Their grasp of the basic facts, especially their neglect of the tremendous gains of moving labor from low-productivity countries to high-productivity countries, is too weak to take their so-called vision seriously.
Our other response to unmeasured and unmeasurable dangers, however, is to fall back on existing moral presumptions. Until same-sex marriage was legalized in certain countries, for example, how were we supposed to know its long-term social effects? The honest answer is, “We couldn’t.” But in the absence of strong evidence that these overall social effects would be very bad, a lot of us have now decided to respect individuals’ right to marry whom they like.
This is ultimately how I see the case for open borders. Denying human beings the right to rent an apartment from a willing landlord or accept a job offer from a willing employer is a serious harm. How much would someone have to pay the average American to spend the rest of his or her life in Haiti or Syria? To morally justify such harm, we need a clear and present danger, not gloomy speculation. Yet when we patiently and calmly study immigration, the main thing we observe is: people moving from places where their talent goes to waste to places where they can realize their potential. What we see, in short, is immigrants enriching themselves by enriching the world.
Do I seriously think I am going to convert people to open borders with a short article—or even a full book? No. My immediate goal is more modest: I’d like to convince you that open borders aren’t crazy. While we take draconian regulation of migration for granted, the central goal of this regulation is to trap valuable labor in unproductive regions of the world. This sounds cruel and misguided. Shouldn’t we at least double-check our work to make sure we’re not missing a massive opportunity for ourselves and humanity?
How much do you respect and obey laws? How much should you? I suppose that depends on what you mean by “laws.”
Most people confuse legislation for laws. Laws were discovered — usually thousands of years ago — while legislation is made up by politicians and imposed under threat of violence as if it were law. Occasionally, legislation is written to copy or reflect law, but not often.
Law concerns respecting the rights of others, while legislation is almost entirely written to give excuses for government to violate individual rights. Thus “don’t murder” is a law, while “pay this tax” is legislation.
Laws don’t need to be written down for you to have the right to defend your life, liberty, or property from violators. Nor do laws have to be enforced. People must only be allowed to defend themselves and others from anyone who violates law.
Since most people use the word “law” for legislation, I’ll make things simple and switch to following the common usage below. Just keep the difference in mind.
I have lived in many places. Each time I moved to a new place I was subjected to a new set of laws. I never felt glad about the laws that were being enforced in my new location. Not even once. I have, however, often been glad about the laws that either hadn’t been written or weren’t being enforced.
I’m much more likely to comply with a harmless policy, even if it’s arbitrary, if I’m asked nicely than I am if someone puts it into legislative language and turns it into a threat. I see all laws as a negative; a drain on society. The fewer laws, the better.
In the Tao Te Ching, written in the 6th century BCE, Lao Tzu wrote: “The more laws and restrictions there are, the poorer people become … The more laws and commands there are, the more thieves and robbers there will be.”
So, thousands of years ago, smart people had already realized that laws aren’t good for society. Politicians and their hired guns still pretend otherwise.
I once asked a retired deputy sheriff — a former legislation enforcement officer — whether something was “legal.” He replied, “By the time a person sits down to breakfast they’ve already broken a bunch of laws, so don’t worry about it. Just live the best you can without harming anyone else and you’ll be better than most people.”
Great advice for everyone, unless you suffer from a law fetish.
Today’s immigrant voters are heavily Democratic, but ’twas not always so. As Open Borders explains, immigrants were almost evenly split during the Reagan era. It’s not hard to see why. At least rhetorically, Reagan nearly endorsed open borders:
I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.
What changed? The Republicans I know focus on immigrants’ changing national origin. When you look at the data, however, Republicans have lost favor among immigrants around the world. European immigrants are Democratic. So are Indian-Americans – the richest and most socially conservative ethnicity in the country.
What gives? I say there’s been a vicious feedback loop. Once Reagan left the stage, Republicans started feeling more negative about immigrants, which made immigrants more negative about Republicans, which made Republicans more negative about immigrants, which made immigrants more negative about Republicans. And so on and so on.
You could say, “Tragic, but Republicans are stuck. If they don’t keep out immigrants, their party will perish.” Yet common decency aside, the path of exclusion has worked poorly. A vocally anti-immigrant Republican president has totally failed to permanently rewrite immigration law. Even if he gets reelected, Trump will soon be a lame duck.
What’s the alternative? Lose the American’t attitude that “Immigrants hate Republicans – and there’s nothing Republicans can do about it.” Massive partisan realignments really do happen; look what happened to white Catholics over the last fifty years. Or to be more more precise, partisan realignments don’t “happen”; rather they come to fruition. The secret: Far-sighted statesmanship. Start magnanimously showing respect to people who don’t yet vote for you. Search for common ground, and accentuate the positive. If at first you don’t succeed, try try again. And always shuck your tamales.
P.S. Some readers object to the Reagan cartoon’s implied comparison between the Berlin Wall and immigration barriers. There’s a world of difference between keeping people in and keeping people out, right? For private property, yes. For countries, however, the distinction between “keeping people in” and “keeping people out” is far more complicated than it looks:
Suppose, for example, that the East German government closed its airspace to Western aviation and used the Berlin Wall to prevent anyone from leaving the surrounded city of West Berlin. Honecker could have even told his citizens, “You’re free to move to West Berlin, but since we’ve got it surrounded, don’t expect to enjoy too many Western luxuries.” Despite his oppressive intent, Honecker would, grammatically speaking, be keeping West Berliners out of East Germany, not holding East Germans in East Germany.
To make the hypothetical even starker: Imagine the East Germany government legally granted independence to a one-mile strip of land along its entire border. Call it Mauerland. All of the citizens of Mauerland are former officers of the East German border guard; their country is just one big, deadly wall. East Germany then abolishes all laws against emigration; everyone is free to leave. Unfortunately, the sovereign state of Mauerland refuses to grant visas or overflight permission to anyone without the East Germans’ approval. When challenged, they say, “Mauerland, like the United States, has every right to keep foreigners out. You keep out Mexicans. We keep out East Germans.”
All of my books have been controversial. Yetsofar, almost no prominent critic has accused any of my books of being “ideological” or “dogmatic.” Instead, they open the books and engage the arguments. As a result, even staunch critics almost always find some common ground. Few deny me a minimal, “While he goes too far, some of what Caplan is saying sure seems true…”
I hope this pattern of reactions to my books continues. I fear, however, that I’ve reached the end of the line. Immigration has become so ideological during the last five years. Pessimism about immigration is almost a litmus test for conservatism. Yet there is no fundamental reason for this change of heart. Yes, today’s immigrants are heavily Democratic. As I explain in the book, however, this is a recent pattern. During the Reagan era, immigrants were almost equally divided between the two major parties.
While it’s tempting to blame the changing national origin of the immigrants, this doesn’t hold water. Indian-Americans are the richest and most socially conservative ethnicity in modern American, yet they’re probably even more Democratic than Hispanics. What’s going on? I say we’re seeing the Respect Motive at work. Immigrants have turned away from Republicans because they no longer feel the heartfelt welcome that leaders like Reagan once eloquently voiced.
When I say this, I fear that conservative readers will feel attacked. I also fear that liberal readers will amplify those fears by attacking them. My hope, however, is conservatives rediscover Reagan’s perspective – and liberals will show appreciation for those who do. Support for immigration used to be bipartisan. It can be bipartisan again.
Wishful thinking? Perhaps. With Zach Weinersmith’s help, however, it’s not hard to visualize…
Legislation includes: pay this tax, don’t smoke that, don’t have consensual sex with that person, don’t sell that, don’t add on to your house, wear your seat belt, don’t park your car on your own property, don’t paint your house that color, don’t drive faster than this arbitrary speed, don’t open a business there, etc.
Legislation is counterfeit “law”. It harms individuals and therefore it harms society.
I know law when I see it. I am clueless about most legislation details. That seems to suggest I could reasonably (but not “legally”) call myself a “lawyer”, but not an attorney. Maybe that’s why so few attorneys call themselves “lawyers” anymore. If they are that self-aware…
Cops are “Legislation enforcement officers” who violate law in order to enforce legislation. That makes them bad guys, even when they sometimes do the right thing. They’ll go right back to doing the wrong thing at the first opportunity.