Sitting on an Ocean of Hypotheticals
By Bryan Caplan
But I don’t think people’s opposition to more immigration is that different from how they would react to those who would prevent them from getting at precious resources. Exhibit A is oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Region (ANWR.) For years, the federal government has locked up that resource, not allowing it to be drilled. Assuming that it is locked up forever, the foregone gains are about 30% of Bryan’s hypothetical trillion dollars.
But the point is: that’s not what people are doing. People are treating that locked-up pool of oil much the same way they’re treating that locked-out ocean of talent. They’re passively accepting the government’s limits and, in both cases, many people favor them.
My reply: I deliberately didn’t use oil as an example because many smart people think there is a powerful reason to leave untapped oil reserves untouched: negative externalities, especially from air pollution and climate change. I focused on a purely hypothetical substance – Leonium – to fix ideas and bypass pre-existing ideological commitments. Otherwise I’d be basing one controversial position (pro-immigration) on an unrelated controversial position (pro-drilling) – rarely a good pedogogical or rhetorical idea.