What I Didn't Get to Say to Mark Krikorian
By Bryan Caplan
If you haven’t heard of John Tanton, you should: He’s the intellectual entrepreneur behind most of America’s major anti-immigration organizations. This morning I spoke before one of Tanton’s brain children, US Inc., for their annual Social Contract Writers Workshop. As expected, the audience was polite, with little of the vitriol that so sullies cyberspace. I once again shared a panel with Mike Gonzalez from Heritage and Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies. Q&A was brief, but I had time to chat with the audience after the session. Still, I left with a great deal unsaid, which I’ll now share – starting with what I didn’t get to tell Mark Krikorian.
1. Mark has often joked that he wants me to become the spokesman for comprehensive immigration reform. But his joke is serious: I was invited on his recommendation. In his view, I’m so extreme and forthright that I discredit moderate proponents of freer immigration by association.
Mark may be right, but I doubt it. Violent extremism quickly makes moderates look bad, but I’m staunchly peaceful for moral and tactical reasons. No one’s physically frightened of little me, nor should they be. What am I accomplishing? My first priority is to stand up for what I think is true, quixotic though it be. Especially in the long-run, though, I seem to be nudging the Overton Window in a pro-immigration direction. Framing the immigration debate as Caplan versus Krikorian is better for immigration than framing it as Zuckerberg versus Krikorian. Why? My presence makes Zuckerberg sound like the voice of moderation. It’s hard to dismiss him as an open borders fanatic when I’m in earshot.
2. Mark paid me a nice compliment, calling me an “honest man” willing to unreservedly defend mass immigration. But he paired this compliment with harsh words for mainstream pro-immigration thinkers. Mark seems to think that they secretly agree with me, but aren’t honest enough to admit it.
What evidence does Mark have for his conspiratorial view of his mainstream opponents? None that I’ve seen. He’s just imputing fanciful hidden motives to people he barely knows. Why fanciful? Well, I’ve talked with plenty of mainstream pro-immigration thinkers. If anything, my presence inclines them to exaggerate their support for immigration. Still, they’re sadly unfamiliar with the case for open borders, and almost as quick to reject the idea as Mark.
3. I was pleasantly surprised that Mark engaged the “open borders would double GDP” argument. The flaw, in his view, is the assumption that First World institutions would remain strong in the face of the immigration of billions.
If billions came overnight, this would be a reasonable fear. In reality, though, this mass migration would take decades. That’s plenty of time for the long-standing dynamic of immigration to work its magic. The first generation of immigrants is too busy working and creating a new life for themselves to try to undermine our institutions or recreate their own. They may form churches and social clubs, but new arrivals take the path of least resistance: Join preexisting American institutions at the ground floor and humbly work their way up. Their kids, in contrast, grow up taking our institutions for granted. Few second-generation immigrants know what institutions their parents lived under. Even fewer want them back. This is the way immigration to the U.S. worked for your ancestors, and I see no reason why it can’t work on a much larger scale. If the subjects of Russian Czars and German Kaisers left no visible marks on American institutions, why should we be scared of anyone else? A billion immigrants over a century is well within our capabilities – especially when you realize that hundreds of millions of foreigners are pre-assimilated already.
4. In my talk, I suggested that open borders would look like an upscale version of the migration-fueled growth that China and India have enjoyed for the last few decades. Mark accepted the comparison, then turned up his nose at China’s polluted urban centers. Do I call that progress?
Absolutely. China has a long way to go, but its growing cities – warts and all – are an earth-shaking improvement over the wretched rural poverty they’re steadily eradicating. Mark’s cavalier attitude towards the tremendous accomplishments of the Chinese is revealing. Instead of suppressing his myopic disgust for the ephemeral drawbacks of progress, he revels in it – and encourages others to do the same. It’s no wonder Mark rejects the most promising way to end global poverty in his lifetime. He has little appreciation for the amazing progress he’s already lived through.