Metaphorical Voting on "Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere": The Case of Vivek Wadhwa
By Bryan Caplan
At risk of sounding like a sore loser, I’ve claimed that many Intelligence Squared participants initially voted metaphorically. The resolution said “Let Anyone Take a Job Anywhere,” but many attendees voted For simply because they are pro-immigration by mainstream American standards. This mainstream position amounts to (a) amnesty for existing illegal immigrants, (b) more high-skilled immigration, (c) greater openness to refugees – and little else. The debate “changed their mind” only in the sense that it convinced them to vote literally rather than metaphorically.
Do I have any actual evidence for this admittedly self-serving story? I know of just one striking datum. My model accurately describes my teammate, Vivek Wadhwa. While I in no way blame Vivek for our defeat, his The Immigration Exodus explicitly opposes open borders. I was horrified the first time I read his words:
To be clear, I am against the idea of simply stapling a green card to the diploma of every STEM graduate. This practice would bring in the chaff with the wheat and could encourage the development of “green card diploma mills,” where a student’s primary purpose would be to obtain a green card.
In short, Vivek has long regarded even many foreigners with science, technology, engineering, and math degrees as undesirable “chaff” the U.S. ought to exclude from the labor market. Anyone who sets the bar this high will obviously have little interest in admitting the vast majority of the world’s would-be immigrants. This is the kind of high-IQ misanthropy I abhor.
When I discussed this issue with Vivek before the debate, I shared many of my standard arguments for low-skilled immigration. He never proclaimed his conversion, but neither did he demur. In the end, we seemingly agreed on the following division of labor: Vivek covers high-skilled immigration, I cover low-skilled immigration, and Vivek refrains from opposing low-skilled immigration. After this discussion, I was nervous, but hopeful.
One month passed. The day of the debate arrived. About an hour before showtime, the panelists met. At this point, Vivek told Unz that he had read and agreed with Unz’s proposal to raise the minimum wage. Since the whole point of Unz’s proposal is to drastically reduce low-skilled immigration, I was once again horrified. Vivek did not say, “I favor a $12 minimum wage because, unlike Unz, I deny that it would disemploy low-skilled immigrants.” He endorsed Unz’s proposal without qualification before the debate even started.
I haven’t combed through the debate transcript, but as far as I remember Vivek never conceded that low-skilled immigration should be restricted. Open Borders’ John Lee, who attended the debate, got the impression that Vivek was on board. But during the debate, Vivek spontaneously and repeatedly declared his support for Unz’s proposal – without disputing Unz’s restrictionist rationale. The upshot: If you hadn’t read Unz’s piece, my teammate sounded like an open borders advocate who also liked the minimum wage. If you had read Unz piece, however, it was plain that my teammate had reverted to the restrictionism of The Immigration Exodus.
After the debate, Vivek sent out a newsletter underscoring the fact that he never actually favored open borders:
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 country’s needs. I also argued that a free and unrestricted flow of talent across borders is already happening in the knowledge-based sectors of the economy–and that this is good.
In short, Vivek never actually believed that we should “Let anyone take a job anywhere.” Not before the debate. Not during the debate. Not after the debate. Why then did he agree to debate on behalf of the resolution? The only explanation that makes sense is that he considers himself “pro-immigration,” and therefore readily agreed to take the “pro-immigration side” in a debate. His true views were constant. The only actual thing that changed was that Vivek switched from metaphorical support for “Let anyone take a job anywhere” to literal opposition.
I’m glad the world has moderately pro-immigration thinkers like Vivek. I don’t think the heretic is worse than the infidel. Even baby steps towards open borders are steps in the right direction. My point is simply this: If even my own teammate initially affirmed the resolution metaphorically rather than literally, many people in the audience probably did the same.
P.S. My view has a testable implication. If I ever enter a similar debate, I will insist on the following pre-voting instructions from the moderator:
Only vote FOR if you favor ending all restrictions on migration of
workers of ALL skill levels from ALL countries, including unskilled
workers from impoverished counties like Haiti. Do not vote FOR merely because you favor the DREAM Act, amnesty for existing illegal immigrants, a more generous refugee policy, or more H1-B visas.
My prediction: If the audience receives these instructions before BOTH the pre- and post-debate votes, I will gain more votes than the other side. Consider that an offer to bet.