Vipul Naik and the Priority of Open Borders
By Bryan Caplan
I aim to consider three aspects to this issue in three separate blog
posts. In the current blog post, I consider the extent to which
libertarians do advocate for open borders, relative to many
other libertarian causes (my conclusion: not much). In the next blog
post, I will consider how much energy I think libertarians should
devote to open borders (my conclusion: probably more than they
currently do). In my third blog post, I will consider the reasons behind
what I perceive as the under-supply of open borders advocacy from
He begins by putting me personally under the microscope:
The bloggers and writers in the pro-open borders people
list are some of the most prolific writers on the subject of open
borders. It would be reasonable to assume that the proportion of their
writing efforts that they devote to open borders is an upper bound on
the proportion devoted by libertarian bloggers and writers in general.
Let’s begin by looking at Bryan Caplan. I
took a look at Caplan’s most recent posts. Of his posts so far in
September (about 25 of them so far) none is about immigration. In August
(about 30 posts), there doesn’t seem to be any post devoted to
immigration issues or open borders either…
So, a better idea might be obtained by looking at the proportion of
posts that Caplan has written about immigration in his lifetime. My
guesstimate, based on the list of Caplan’s open borders writings,
is that about 150 blog posts by Caplan are about immigration (the list
includes about 40 Caplan blog posts, but there are many others that are
more tangentially related to immigration that don’t make it to the
list), plus may be another 150 that mention immigration as a side note.
Caplan’s been blogging for seven years, and posts about 25-35 times a
month, so a guesstimate lower bound for his total number of blog posts
is about 2000. With these generous guesstimates, about 8% of Caplan’s
blog posts are about immigration, and another 8% tangentially reference
immigration issues and open borders. I suspect the actual percentages
are somewhat lower since these guesstimates have been made generously.
Vipul’s overview seems quite fair. My only quibble is that I have probably blogged more about immigration than other any policy issue. Still, the sense that I should focus more on immigration has weighed on me for some time. Part of me thinks that I should devote my entire life to this issue – to transform myself into the William Lloyd Garrison of immigration.
My main excuses: (a) I already blog virtually all of the novel thoughts I have about immigration; (b) I’d be too miserable banging my head against the wall of public opinion and academic apathy if I devoted myself entirely to immigration; and (c) I probably don’t have the right personality or charisma to be a William Lloyd Garrison. It’s also possible that I would actually lose readers and influence if I deliberately became a one-trick pony.
But what about other libertarians? Vipul makes a rather damning case:
Caplan has gone on record calling immigration the “most important issue of our time” (here and here).
So it would be reasonable to assume that most other pro-open borders
bloggers and writers devote an even lower proportion of their writings
to immigration. This, roughly, seems to be the case, with a few
exceptions: Nathan Smith‘s blogging on the Open Borders website (though not his earlier writings) and Alex Nowrasteh‘s
writings. Alex is a full-time immigration policy analyst, so it’s
natural he devotes most of his energies to the topic — that’s part of
his job description…
What if we look at the proportion of effort devoted to discussing immigration spent by libertarian writers who are not focused on immigration advocacy? The proportions are even lower. For instance, Students for Liberty,
a mostly US-focused organization (though with some international
activities and outreach efforts) that serves as an umbrella group for
college campus student libertarian groups, has a blog with about
1300-1500 blog posts. Of these, there are four blog posts with the immigration tag.
Two of these four posts simply include a link or video embed of an
immigration-related topic, plus other stuff not directly related to
immigration. Thus, there seems to be a grand total of only two blog posts devoted to immigration (this one about Obama’s de facto DREAM Act and this one about how freedom to travel can enhance support for libertarian ideals).
What’s going on? You might conclude that many libertarians favor immigration restrictions. But if that were so, our blogs should feature lots of lively debates on the topic rather than the sound of chirping crickets.
The real reason, I suspect, is that most libertarians view immigration restrictions the way I used to: yet another bad thing governments do. To truly appreciate the horror of these laws, you need to not just know but dwell upon the basic empirics about (a) how badly people live in the Third World; (b) how much Third Worlders can improve their condition by working in the First World; and (c) how flimsy the objections to immigration are. Most of us can’t reach this level of enlightenment unless we personally get to know some illegal immigrants. Until we do, my analogy between Jim Crow and the status quo sounds like hyperbole.
The awful truth, though, is that the Jim Crow analogy is spot on. First World governments deny people from the Third World the basic human right to sell their labor to willing First World buyers. It’s easy for those of us born in the First World to neglect this fact. But that’s why anyone serious about human liberty should regularly shout it from the rooftops.
P.S. Stay tuned for the rest of Vipul’s series. I know I will.