Consider the following thought experiment: Moved by the
plight of desperate earthquake victims, you volunteer to work as a
relief worker in Haiti. After two weeks, you’re ready to go home.
Unfortunately, when you arrive at the airport, customs officials tell
you that you’re forbidden to enter the United States. You go to the
American consulate to demand an explanation. But the official
response is simply, “The United States does not have to explain
itself to you.”
You don’t have to be a libertarian to admit that this seems like a
monstrous injustice. The entire ideological menagerie—liberals, conservatives, moderates, socialists, and libertarians—would defend
your right to move from Haiti to the United States. What’s so bad
about restricting your migration? Most obviously, because life in
Haiti is terrible. If the American government denies you permission
to return, you’ll live in dire poverty, die sooner, live under a brutal, corrupt regime, and be cut off from most of the people you want to associate with. Hunger, danger, oppression, isolation: condemning you to even one seems wrong. Which raises a serious question: if you had been born in Haiti, would denying you permission to enter the United States be any less wrong?1
This thought experiment hardly proves that people have an
absolute right of free migration. After all, many things that seem
wrong on the surface turn out to be morally justified. Suppose you
knock me unconscious, then slice me open with a knife. This is
normally wrong. But if you’re performing surgery required to save
my life, and I gave my informed consent, then your action is
not just morally permissible, but praiseworthy. Nevertheless, my
thought experiment does establish one weak conclusion: immigration
restrictions seem wrong on the surface. To justifiably restrict
migration, you need to overcome the moral presumption in favor
of open borders (Huemer 2010).
I really, really like your blog. In a post last year that made me laugh out loud, you commented on the liberal blogger Matt Yglesias (you and Sailer read him so I don’t have to bother!), who noticed, apparently with some surprise, that “Marion Barry has bad policy ideas!”
I have now decided that I have found the post, or rather the online Cato Journal article, that suggests to me the internet is ready to shut down. Otherwise, how do you explain how someone who is apparently as smart as Bryan Caplan (the guy has a PhD in Economics from Princeton!) getting all his friends to read his paper (including Larry Caplan, Michael Clemens, Tyler Cowen, Robin Hanson, Michael Huemer, Garett Jones, John Nye, and Alex Tabarrok) not to mention the editors at the Cato Journal, without anyone saying to him this paper is ridiculous. Just plain ridiculous. Let’s begin with your opening premise — why does the U.S. government deny re-entry into the country of one of its own citizens! The entire setup is an injustice not because you’ll end up living in Haiti (where due to your native intelligence and resourcefulness, compared to the average Haitian, you’ll do just fine) — it is an injustice because you were denied your rights as a U.S. citizen! Bryan might have just as well started the paper by saying the following: “imagine aliens invaded the U.S. and deported all citizens into camps on the moon; sort of like a reverse “District 9”, but on the moon, and they made Newt Gingrich the Moon leader and he won’t let you go back to the U.S. Everyone would agree on the political spectrum that this is a monstrous injustice because there is nothing on the moon and you’ll live “in dire poverty, die sooner, live under a brutal, corrupt regime, (remember, Newt is in charge) and be cut off from most of the people you want to associate with (except for the Haitians — at least they won’t be on the moon!)”
The entire premise of his paper is flawed and makes no sense. He simply assumes the crucial moral premise — that there is “a moral presumption in favor of open borders.” Says who? Professor Huemer? Forgive me if I don’t have time to go look up his authoritative paper on the matter, but something tells me he doesn’t overcome the moral presumption in favor of a group of people with a common language, land and culture — let’s call them a nation — who use their government to decide to protect their language, land, and culture by restricting who can come and live and work in their country. Now I certainly agree that in so doing the people of this nation will be restricting some of their neighbors (like Professor Caplan) who want foreigners to come to live and work in the nation from doing so. That’s why in a democratic country we have a debate about immigration policy and we generally allow some form of immigration if our neighbors are interested. But here’s a newsflash to libertarians — there is no moral presumption that you can do whatever you want with your life (and property) when it will have an impact on your neighbors and assume your neighbors get no say in the matter. At least not in a democracy (and not in most authoritarian countries as well — unless you are the one in charge).
In the rest of the paper Caplan then proceeds to, surprise, surprise, take a biased walk through the social science literature on the positive and negative effects of immigration for the host country. I won’t bore you with all the details, suffice to say that the good Professor seems to ignore how poor Latin American immigrants to this country seem to be assimilating just fine — to underclass norms, nicely summarized here by Heather MacDonald:
“In many areas, the costs associated with illegal immigration go up in the second and third generation, as the American-born children and grandchildren of illegals get sucked into underclass culture. Illegal aliens make up 22 percent of the felony defendants in Arizona’s largest county, Maricopa, and more than 17 percent of the state’s prison population, though they are roughly 10 percent of Maricopa County’s population and a lower percentage of the state’s population. Their children’s crime rates are undoubtedly higher—the incarceration rate of Mexican immigrants jumps more than eightfold between the first and second generations, resulting in a prison rate for Mexican-Americans that is 3.45 times higher than that of whites, according to an analysis of 2000 census data by the Migration Policy Institute. But even in the first generation, the Mexican incarceration rate—1.8 percent of all 12- to 24-year-olds—is higher than the incarceration rate for that same age group in the overall American population—1.4 percent—according to a Manhattan Institute study of assimilation.
The Hispanic teen pregnancy rate is the highest of any ethnic group in the country—three times that of whites, and 27 percent higher than that of blacks. The Hispanic illegitimacy rate—53 percent—is growing faster than that of any other ethnic group. Children raised by teen and single mothers experience high levels of poverty, school failure, and juvenile delinquency.
The long-term consequences of illegal immigration for American competitiveness cannot be captured in a month’s worth of local sales receipts. The Educational Testing Service foresees the country’s first drop in literacy and numeracy by 2030 if the current mix of low-skilled immigrants remains unchanged. California remains the bellwether for all things pertaining to illegal immigration: thanks to immigration, the state has dropped from the seventh-most-educated state in the nation in 1970 to the least-educated state today, according to the Center for Immigration Studies. Large numbers of California’s Hispanic students continue to be classified as non-native “English language learners” through much of their school years, even though they speak English and were either born here or taught here through most of their lives, because their academic and formal linguistic skills are so deficient. The National Center for Higher Education Management Systems has predicted that California’s per-capita income will drop by 11 percent from 2000 to 2020 because of the poor academic performance of Latino students, many of whom are the progeny of illegal immigrants. In Arizona, the federal government has been contributing at least $600 million a year in an effort to bring the state’s underperforming students, the vast majority of whom are the children and grandchildren of Hispanic immigrants, up to par, without a massive positive effect.”
So Caplan is wrong about his basic facts and he’s confused about his moral philosophy; as I said, it is time to shut down the internet.