Students for Liberty Open Borders Debate: My Opening Statement
By Bryan Caplan
Saturday I once again debated the Center for Immigration Studies‘ Mark Krikorian on open borders, this time for the Students for Liberty regional conference at the University of Maryland. Here’s my opening statement.
RESOLVED: The United States should Pursue a Policy of Open
1. Under open borders, all human beings, regardless of
citizenship, are free to work for willing employers, rent from willing
landlords, and buy from willing vendors.
It’s a simple deduction from the basic libertarian principle that
government should not interfere with capitalist acts between consenting adults.
2. The only principled libertarian objection to this
is that the citizens of each country are its rightful owners, so they’re
entitled to regulate migration as they see fit.
3. But if you
believe this, there is no principled libertarian objection to any act of government: You can’t move
into my house without my consent, but you also can’t open a store in my house
without my consent, practice your religion in my house without my consent, preach
libertarianism in my house without my consent, or live in my house without
paying me all the rent I demand. If
citizens are the rightful owners of the country, they have every right to
regulate and tax any aspect of life they like.
4. Fortunately, the
belief that citizens are countries’ rightful owners is crazy. The social contract is an utter myth. Contracts require unanimous consent, and no
country has ever had unanimous consent.
5. Of course, most
libertarians – including me – grant that if the consequences of specific libertarian
policies are terrible, we should make an exception. It’s a big tent; you don’t have to be a strict
libertarian on everything to qualify
as a libertarian. But open borders is not a case where an exception is
6. Why not? For starters, we should remember that
preventing someone from moving to his preferred country is not a minor
inconvenience like a parking ticket.
It’s a severe act of
government coercion. Imagine you could
either be stuck in Haiti for the rest of your life, or be literally enslaved
with probability x. What value of x
makes you indifferent? 10%? 20%? 30%? I’m not saying immigration restrictions are
as bad as slavery; but if for the billions born in places like Haiti, our
restrictions are at least 10% as bad as slavery.
7. What about the
broader effects of immigration? Standard
economic estimates say that open borders would have massive economic benefits – roughly DOUBLING global
production. How? By moving billions of workers from countries
where their labor produces little to countries where their labor produces a
lot. Just look at how much a Haitian’s
wages rise the day he arrives in Miami.
8. What about
fiscal effects? Milton Friedman famously
warned that “You cannot simultaneously have free immigration and a welfare
state.” But I’ve looked closely at
the numbers, and Friedman was just
wrong. If you’re curious, check out the
latest National Academy of Science estimates.
9. What if
immigrants come and vote for statist policies?
I’ve looked at the numbers.
Immigrants are more economically liberal and socially conservative than
natives, but the differences are modest, and immigrants don’t vote much
anyway. And immigrants are much more
libertarian than natives on one important dimension: support for free
immigration. Today’s immigrants are much more Democratic than natives,
but if you ever thought that Democrats were dramatically worse for freedom than
Republicans, I hope the last year has changed your mind.
10. I generally
avoid poetry, but today I’ll make an exception.
The government decrees that fellow human beings can’t live or work here without
proper papers – papers that are almost impossible for most people on Earth to
ever obtain. It treats them as criminals
for terrible offenses like shining shoes on the streets of Miami or picking
fruit in the fields of California. If
libertarians won’t stand up for the rights of these literally oppressed people,
we stand for nothing and we are nothing.