Carow Hall Reviews Open Borders
By Bryan Caplan
You need a thick skin here at Carow Hall. If you’re wrong, your colleagues aren’t afraid to tell you. The upside: When you receive praise, you know it’s the real thing. So what’s the buzz here for Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration?
That is the already-bestselling graphic novel by Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith, and I would just like to say it is a phenomenal achievement. It is a landmark in economic education, how to present economic ideas, and the integration of economic analysis and graphic visuals. I picked it up not knowing what to expect, and was blown away by the execution.
In their new book Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith do everything you’d think that good policy pundits should do.
They don’t just track trends or scold rivals, they identify and focus on a feasible positive policy change. They don’t just pick any old change, but focus on one of the biggest possible gains they can identify. And it isn’t a complex fragile proposal that most people couldn’t understand, or that would go badly if not implemented exactly as recommended; their proposal is simple and robust. They don’t pick a topic that has little emotional-resonance, regarding which few would act even if they were persuaded; their topic is quite emotionally-engaging. They don’t pick a change so abstract (like futarchy) that few can concretely imagine it; one can create concrete vivid images of what would happen if their proposal were implemented.
They don’t use complex technical prose, they write in simple clear language, and even add engaging pictures; their book is actually a well-done “graphic novel”. They don’t just present one side of an argument, but instead respond to many major counter arguments. They don’t just use one favored framework of analysis, they consider the issue from many possible frameworks. They don’t just focus on their favorite policy choice, they consider many possible ways to compromise with others. They aren’t overly confident in their claims. And while they consider many possible details and complexities, their main argument, regarding the main effect of their proposal, is simplicity itself.
Most important, their arguments seem solid and correct.
I expected the ideas to be good. What I didn’t expect was how well the graphic-novel format works to convey those ideas. It’s a joy to read. Bryan’s personality–friendly, welcoming, honest but also analytic, numerate and morally and factually serious–comes through on every page. Every page also contains something interesting. The interplay of graphics and words shows two craftsmen at the top of their game–the pictures offer wry commentary, cameos, and emphases and bear careful viewing. What’s phenomenal is that in addition to being fun to read this is also the most serious book on freedom of movement that has ever been written.