A Bettor's Tale
By Bryan Caplan
is not a fan of the idea of open borders. In fact, he’s vehemently
opposed. The first time I told him I favored the idea, his reaction was,
well, a very hard to forget combination of incredulity and indignation.
Free trade in goods was fine he maintained but to extend the idea to
We would debate the issue via e-mail and when we saw
each other in person. During one such visit, he was telling me, as he
had repeatedly, that support for open borders was just one hell of an
out there idea. I normally responded by saying that an idea being
outside the mainstream hardly meant it was a bad idea. After all,
support for many things that are now sacrosanct in our culture once only
enjoyed the support of a few articulate radicals.
However, at that
moment, a different response came to mind. I knew that The Wall Street
Journal had editorialized in favor of open borders under Robert Bartley.
My Uncle, a fiscal conservative who works in the financial sector,
surely could not deny that the Wall Street Journal was an impeccably
mainstream publication. So I said “Is The Wall Street Journal crazy? It
has editorialized in favor of open borders.” He did not believe that the
Journal would ever be so “out there.” Knowing I was right, and inspired
by Bryan, I suggested we bet to settle the dispute.
The terms were
clear: 50 bucks would be owed to me if I could find an editorial by the
Journal calling for open borders and 50 owed to him if I couldn’t. A
30 second Google search later and there it was: an editorial by the
Wall Street Journal endorsing my ultra-marginal, insane libertarian
notion of open borders. The editorial even used the term “open borders.”
My Uncle was not happy. “This is from the 80s,” he protested. “Did I
say it was written yesterday? Come on Bob, the terms of the bet were
clear. Any editorial from the Journal advocating this and you owe me
I really didn’t feel this was sneaky since it’s not like the
Journal has ever repudiated or even distanced itself from this position
and has indeed written many editorials advocating policies consistent
with the goal of ultimately opening up the borders completely. A few
minutes later, I was 50 dollars richer and he was 50 dollars poorer.
Since then, I have routinely suggested betting to settle disputes.No one
else has agreed to bet which shows you that even belligerent partisans
back off when there is a cost to being wrong.
and successful guy. I hope to be like him in many ways but, you know,
without being terribly wrong on hugely important moral issues 🙂
P.S. I’d add that Mathieu’s uncle is praiseworthy for betting in the first place. As I’ve pledged before, “When I win a bet, I will not shame my opponent, for a betting loser has
far more honor than the mass of men who live by loose and idle talk.”