Brief thoughts on Bryan Caplan’s “Open Borders”

The book itself is good, but not great. It’s good because:

  • It presents the standard arguments for open borders well
  • It somewhat competently rebuts a number of common objections
  • It’s fun to read.

It’s not great because:

  • He weak-mans opposing arguments.
  • His arguments in a few key areas are pretty weak or use bad evidence.
  • There’s nothing here that you won’t have heard before if you’re somewhat interested in libertarianism/migration ethics.

His Case: Letting people move from poor, low productivity countries to rich, high productivity countries will make both the poor people and most people in the rich countries drastically better off. It’s also good because borders are morally arbitrary and unjust.

The objections he tackles:

  • Immigrants destroy our culture
    • They don’t tend to commit more crime than natives
    • Terrorism is a non-issue
    • They tend to converge to natives language proficiency/values over time.
  • Immigrants are a drain on resources
    • Migrants increase the supply of labour, but also increase demand for goods/services meaning they don’t reduce wages or increase unemployment.
    • High skilled migrants contribute more than they take.
    • Low skilled migrants do so as well provided they’re young.
    • It’s wrong to discriminate against net drain migrants because we don’t do that for net-drain citizen babies. (It’s a really weird attempt to conflate restricting reproductive autonomy with borders as both are stopping certain kinds of people from being citizens.)
  • Immigrants are low IQ
    • They converge to higher IQ’s when in rich countries.
    • Even assuming no convergence and the worst case estimates for IQ/GDP correlation, global GDP would still rise by 88% with open borders.

Some of the weak-manning:

  • Culture
    • The fact that immigrants integrate now does not mean that will continue to be the case when they form a far larger share of the population.
    • His evidence for immigrants skills is largely based on data from the USA. The USA does a particularly good job of integrating immigrants. He’s cherry picking evidence.
    • He ignores the real concerns and instead focuses on easy to rebut things like immigrants not learning english. The real concern is immigrants respect for basic liberal values like individualism, free speech, freedom of religion, secularism etc…
  • Drain on resources
    • It seems like a policy of accepting high-skill migrants and rejecting low-skill ones is a viable mid-point between open borders and the current system
    • The assumptions about additional labour not reducing the price of labour is uncertain. In a country like spain, which already has 30%+ youth unemployment, it’s not clear that the economy is constrained by labour supply and would grow if more were added.

I may write a more thorough, chapter by chapter rebuttal at some point later in the week.

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