Debate Analysis: Unz, Wadhwa, and Me
By Bryan Caplan
Two of my co-debaters, Vivek Wadhwa and Ron Unz, sent out newsletters analyzing the debate.
Opponent Ron Unz:
As a useful means of gauging the impact of the
arguments, the organizers take before and after votes of the large New York
City studio audience, and unsurprisingly the Open Borders proposition started
off with a landslide majority in favor. But after nearly two hours of
discussion, with the arguments of both sides getting reasonable airing, there
was a swing of 32 points against the idea, allowing our side to win
handily. Apparently, the swing in audience opinion may have been the
sharpest for that any recent debate, perhaps illustrating the rather one-sided
presentation of the issue in the major elite media.
I agree that major elite media are in favor of amnesty and somewhat more open immigration. But who in the media elite openly favors open borders? The editors of the Wall St. Journal have expressed support for the view, but most people in the elite media draw a sharp line between Wall St. Journal news (excellent) and Wall St. Journal editorials (right-wing ideology). The media elite view matches closely with the views of Unz’s partner, Kathleen Newland, rather than with open borders: Amnesty for long-term illegal immigrants, more generous refugee policy, and more skills-based immigration.
My question for Unz: Do you really think that most of the people who initially voted in favor of “Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere” literally favored open immigration from Haiti or Bangladesh? I say most initially voted on their relatively pro-immigration views, then changed their minds when the debaters (myself included) alerted them to the extremism of the proposition. In short, their “for” votes meant that they were mainstream pro-immigration Americans, not open borders radicals like myself.
Teammate Vivek Wadhwa:
team lost by a landslide. 🙁 On reflection, this is not surprising,
given the point we ended up having to defend: that anyone, anywhere, should be
allowed to take a job in the U.S. The image that our opponents very skillfully
planted in the minds of the audience was of 20 million poor Haitians begging on
the streets of New York City.
Brian Caplan, who is a George Mason University
professor and who was on my side, strongly believes that we should let anyone
go anywhere–that it is a basic human right. I have reservations about importing
poverty. I believe in exporting prosperity. I agreed with our opponent Ron Unz,
who is publisher of The American Conservative, that we need a much
higher minimum wage–to rebuild the middle class, stop shifting the burden to
government and welfare, and create market forces that limit immigration to the
My question for Vivek: If this was your view all along, why did you agree to debate in favor of “Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere” in the first place? “Anyone” obviously includes low-skilled immigrants – not merely the low-skilled immigrants that “the country needs.” Even the most ardent restrictionist could agree with that, then add “And the country doesn’t need any low-skilled immigrants.”
I acknowledge that my position is extreme. I don’t expect most people to share that extremism. I certainly didn’t expect my teammate to favor abolishing the minimum wage. If Vivek had said, “I favor raising the minimum wage, because unlike
Unz, I don’t think a higher minimum wage would deter low-skilled
immigration,” I would have disagreed with his economics, but not his position on immigration. But endorsing Unz’s minimum wage proposal – a proposal explicitly intended to reduce low-skilled immigration below its already low level by pricing them out of the market – seems inconsistent with the role Vivek accepted in the debate.
P.S. If anyone has URLs for the Unz or Wadhwa newsletters, please send them to me so I can link to them. I will gladly post or link to any response either offers.