All Crimson Reach and Stationary Waves, All The Time…

So let’s sum up the dialogue so far:

1.People want to employ each other across borders, but laws prevent them from doing so.
2.I say, employment is a good thing, so let’s change the law accordingly.
3.The Anonymous Reach counters that this argument is “fallacious” because of point #1.

It’s hard to take that kind of argument seriously, even despite the Friends-esque condescending writing tone employed to clearly convey to me that 1 implies 3. This is an utter failure of coherent logic.

But, I said at the outset of this post that The Anonymous Reach’s post was revealing, and poor reasoning and failures of logic aren’t particularly “revealing.” What’s revealing is what happens next:

CHANDLER: Okay so if I want to hire a guy without a driver’s license to be my pizza delivery driver, the driver’s licensing laws should be bent/changed.
CHANDLER: If I want to hire a registered sex-offender to be my daycare worker.
CHANDLER: If I want to hire a convicted murderer serving a life sentence in jail to be my travelling salesman.
CHANDLER: All of those legal statuses should automatically just be bent/altered so that the person I Want To Hire and Gave A Job Offer To can perform the job task in question? My desire to hire the person and the mere existence of my job offer trumps all other considerations?
JOEY: I mean, yeah. That is fundamentally what I’m saying, I guess.

So The Anonymous Reach has decided to compare would-be immigrants with job offers to… sex-offenders and convicted murderers. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Anti-immigration sentiment amounts to nothing more than a hateful ideology steeped in xenophobia and ethnocentrism. Those who feel otherwise should at least stop comparing immigration to murder and sexual abuse. Right?

– from “A Revealing Take On Immigration Policy”, Stationary Waves

As a blogger who loves both the Crimson Reach (who blogs at Rhymes With Cars & Girls) and Ryan Long (who blogs at Stationary Waves), I’m going to try and play peacemeaker and attempt to bridge the rhetorical divide between the two that has opened up into quite a chasm lately. I think there are two basic problems:

1) The first is that Mr. Long objects to The Crimson Reach’s rhetorical style, which I admit can be properly characterized as “snarky” or maybe more charitably as “bitting satire”. Satire is not everyone’s cup of tea, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t being used to make a serious point. Take the dialogue quoted above — obviously The Reach is using a reductio ad absurdum style argument when he mentions the possible extreme situations of various undesirable workers to demonstrate the idea that just because a worker has a job (or an employer wants to hire a worker, or a worker is looking for a job) it doesn’t mean that other considerations shouldn’t come into play when considering whether or not a country might want to consider letting that worker into the country if he is an immigrant. What frustrates The Reach, I think, and makes him turn to satire (although he tends toward satire in general) is that many open border folks like to argue in moral terms for their position without acknowledging that there are moral trade-offs involved when we let large numbers of immigrants from foreign cultures into this country, even if the immigrants will boost the economy. In other words, not everything is about economics (and even when it is about economics, there are winners and losers involved so we might need to think through the policy implications beyond ‘this will boost GDP’).

2) The second problem is that Mr. Long likes to throw around words like “xenophobia” and “ethnocentrism” and in a later post he even suggests that those of us who admire Steve Sailer are “fanning the flames of genocide”. Click on that link and check out the post he suggests is “scary stuff”. The post that “promotes the formation of a Kurd state by rekindling the German motherland idea as written about in Omnipotent Government, while sounding the alarm about immigration into France and the UK.” Now I admit I’ve never read Mises Omnipotent Government, but to me, the suggestion that the Kurdish people deserve a national homeland (which has been denied them for no particularly good reason since the end of WWI) is just not that scary. Especially since the Kurds have been content to work more or less peacefully for their state now that they have autonomy within Iraq. More generally, the idea that individual ethnic groups via their respective nation-states should want to defend their culture and heritage is likewise an idea that holds no terror for me — I agree it can be used to oppress and destroy ethnic or religious minorities but so can class differences or disputes over resources or concerns about not being able to live out a culture, etc. In other words, the question of how mankind decides to use its sinful nature to hurt other men is always going to be something we need to guard against and think about, but ignoring mankind’s desire to speak their own language, practice their own religion, govern themselves as they see fit, etc. is probably a receipe for disaster. I suppose this makes me an ethnocentrist, but I’m not sure this needs to be a “bad” idea or one that necessarily correlates perfectly with “xenophobia” or genocide or any sort of hatred at all. I think my Christian faith makes me particularly concerned for the immortal souls of everyone on Earth and I’m called to love all of mankind. I also wouldn’t be reading Steve Sailer on a regular basis if I thought he was full of hate or had a particular animosity for his fellow man.


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36 Responses to All Crimson Reach and Stationary Waves, All The Time…

  1. RPLong says:

    Regarding Sailer, how do you feel about the fact that he recently called all Latina women ugly? ( I’ve worked hard to be totally honest throughout the immigration debating thing. It would be nice if someone, somewhere had the decency to acknowledge the bald and invidious appeals to racism that are regularly made on the restrictionist side. I mean, it’s not as if I’m just making stuff up. At a certain point, acknowledging the simple truth of it is necessary to maintaining an honest dialogue.

    Regarding your first point, I think my piece today at – at least, the introduction – works hard to disambiguate that. It’s a challenge because both sides are making an appeal to morality, but their specific moral claims are different. What I think happens is that whenever open borders advocates make an economic appeal (“practical case,” in Crimson Reach terminology), restrictionists respond with a moral appeal; but, if open borders folks make a moral appeal, restrictionists demand a practical case. So it becomes more about scoring points and taking potshots than about unraveling the issues. This is unfortunate. 😦

    But the moral case is one that I believe is a slam-dunk for the open borders side, because the restrictionists’ moral reasoning leans so heavily on ethnocentrism. Ask yourself: Is it easy to make the case that nations should be literally balkanized? Do you think the Cold War – not the outcome, but the actual war itself – was a positive outcome of WWII? I personally do not.

    At any rate, I appreciate the civility with which you approach this. You’ve put both CR and I to shame in that regard, and I thank you for it.

    • Fake Herzog says:

      Three comments:

      1) Regarding Sailer, I think you are once again being too harsh — his comment is obviously meant to be satire (or snark) in the sense of “Hispanics are spending all that money on beauty products relative to other demographic groups and yet, I Steve Sailer, don’t notice any visible return on their investment”. It is meant to be thought of from a relative standpoint (based on his observations). He obviously does not say he thinks all Hispanic women are ugly — just that they are no prettier than white or Black women who spend less on make-up. I do think it is fair to criticize the comment, which was stuck into the post as a footnote anyway, and interestingly some of the commenters take him to task and defend Hispanic beauty (others argue Steve is right).

      There may be “bald and invidious appeals to racism” made by immigration restrictionists, but I don’t think Sailer and/or many of his fans make those appeals. Or at least I’m much more skeptical than you are given that many of the so-called examples you point to don’t set off any of my racism alarm bells. But we may be working from different definitions of racism, so keep that in mind.

      2) I think your second point is a good one and I will keep it in mind — both sides tend to get slippery and shift from arguing the moral to the practical and vice versa. We should all try and keep our categories straight 🙂

      3) What you call balkanized I call the “normal human desire for cultural fellowship”. Well, I probably should come up with a fancier name for it, but I don’t think we have to look at the Cold War as the model for the world I want — instead just look at all of human history and ask yourself what happens when governments try and wipe out other national cultures — they either usually succeed (and you have tragic cases like the Indian cultures of the Americas) or they don’t succeed and the fight continues to this day.

      • RPLong says:

        I’m glad we agree on 2. 🙂

        Regarding 1, I think even the most charitable reading of Sailer unveils some uncomfortable racist undertones. But you could be right that it’s just his writing voice. I’ll try to keep that in mind for the next time I read him.

        But I think 3 is where we have a real, material disagreement. There was nothing natural about the way balkanization happened in the wake of the World Wars. That happened by the design of statists. I think maybe part of the story you might be less familiar with is the history of countries that were balkanized under duress, such as India – which I mean in its traditional sense, including Pakistan, Kashmir, and Bangladesh. The British architected a partition of a completely cohesive multicultural-but-unified nation and what followed was genocide. In absence of that partition, none of that would have happened.

        Now, we can compare this to what Germany was doing in WWI, assembling a mother country based purely on ethnic grounds. They took over autonomous nations simply because they (the Prussians) had the idea that all those who spoke the German language had a common heritage that deserved to be realized. You can also compare the Indian experience to that of the Bolivarian Empire, which – assuming ethnic ties are strong enough to make a nation – should have been a world super-power, but which crumbled under total lack of democratic support.

        In other words, the historical record does not consistently support the idea of a human desire for “cultural fellowship.” In fact, I would argue that the most powerful countries – whatever that may be worth – in history have been the most cosmopolitan: the Romans, Egyptians, Greeks, Indians, Ottomans, and so on.

        What do you think?

  2. Fake Herzog says:

    You hit the nail on the head — I do think our reading and understanding of history lead us to fundamental differences on the question of the ethnic nation-state. I could write whole essays on the subject and probably not get everything down that I want to say but here are some preliminary thoughts:

    1) I think there is some truth to the idea that the most powerful empires in the world have been cosmopolitan to some extent, but that doesn’t mean there were ethnic tensions within the empire or there wasn’t a dominant culture ruling over the empire. Obviously, with Rome it was Latin and Roman culture — to a certain extent the Romans tolerated other cultures and absorbed other cultural practices and ideas (especially Greek ideas) but just ask the Jews and later the Christians (before the conversion of Constantine) what it was like to oppose Roman rule!

    2) I happen to agree with you that in the broad sweep of history you can point to certain empires (Austro-Hungarian, British, Ottoman) as the ones keeping the peace between differenct ethnic groups and peoples — if you’ve never read the book I’d recommend the wonderful novel The Radetzky March, which is an elegiac look at the end of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Of course, if you were a Serb patriot living in the empire, you didn’t necessarily think it was all that great 🙂

    3) I think that over time these empires break-up due to the fact that the people living under imperial control do desire more autonomy and/or cultural independence — T.E. Lawrence wouldn’t have been successful if the Arabs didn’t have a chip on their shoulder to begin with; there was a reason the Austro-Hungarian empire broke apart; the British may have exploited religious differences in India, but it is hard to imagine that eventually Bengali cultural forces wouldn’t have demanded their own nation or that some of the other ethnic enclaves within India might not break off someday. If they don’t, India might be a good counter-example to my notion that people of different linguistic and cultural backgrounds want their own country…it will be interesting to watch how India develops over time.

    Good food for thought!

    • Ben A says:

      I think there’s a simpler way to go here. Open borders advocates often write as if the citizens of a republic have no right to set immigration policy. This strikes many people (event those generally amenable to high levels of immigration — me, for example!) as absurd. If we are gong to acknowledge states as a unit of political theory, it’s hard to imagine any more rights more basic than deciding who gets to live in the country (and, *usually* but not *logically* related) who gets to be a citizen.

      Question for RPlong. Does the legitimate government of Switzerland have the right to exclude citizenship, or do they need to let anyone who desires become a citizen of Switzerland?

      If the answer to that is “no” (which it really ought to be), I am sure we can see lots of practical reasons why Switzerland might also have the right to regulate immigration. (because it may be practically hard to prevent residents from becoming citizens, because it might be a principal of organization that you want the vast majority of residents to be citizens, because you might fear large numbers of immigrants would have deleterious effects on Swiss institutions, etc., etc.)

      Now, we generally acknowledge many rights are absolute or be misused. Even granting Switzerland a prima facie right to exclude migrants, we can think of lots of examples where it would seem immoral for Switzerland to exercise that right — from extreme cases (people starving on the border) to more general ones (poor people living in country X who would enjoy higher standards of living if they moved to Switzerland).

      When viewed in this context, the analogy to *property* becomes yet more clear. We generally acknowledge that people have a right to exclude others from using their property, even if that right is not absolute, or where there are situations in which insisting on that right would be immoral.

      But what one doesn’t generally hear from Libertarians are arguments of the form “lots of people you don’t know would be better off with your property, therefore you don’t have a general right to exclude.” I think the open border case tends to simply assume the right to exclude away (which is, in my view, crazy), or suggest that the only reasons why people might want to exclude are morally questionable. Here again, I think the analogy to property is useful: there are some kinds of exclusion a property owner should not insist on, because the benefits to others so greatly outweigh the damage he suffers. But I don’t think that argument can generally go through simply by valuing the property owner’s preferences at zero.

      • RPLong says:

        Hi Ben,

        There are really two ways to answer your question. The first is, sure, nations have a right to determine the rules that determine citizenship, so long as those rules don’t infringe on any other human right. For example, it would be reasonable to require potential citizens to declare their intention to become a citizen in writing; it would not be reasonable to require potential citizens to enter a suicide pact. The latter would infringe on that person’s right to life.

        …Similarly, (speaking only as myself, not as a representative of I am okay with countries setting their own rules for citizenship, but not okay with countries abridging the human right to freedom of migration. John Lee wrote a good post on this here:

        The other way to answer your question – the an-cap response – is to wonder aloud what citizenship is and whether human beings ought to be compelled to nationalistic allegiance simply to enjoy their natural rights as individuals. This is a deep, philosophical topic that we need not dive into here, especially since I’m not personally an anarchist. But many people recognize no such right to determine citizenship, whatever that’s worth.

        As for some of your more specific points on private property, did you read my recent Open Borders piece on property rights arguments against open borders? I covered much of what you’re saying in that post.

  3. Ben A says:


    Thanks for the response.

    I of course will need to review your immigration and property rights piece. But an exact analogy to property here is not required. What the analogy to property shows is that simply saying “it would help a lot of people if you did X” is not always sufficient to make doing X morally required. Migrating to Switzerland isn’t *the same* as camping on my lawn or buying an apartment in a NY co-op building. But I think the limitations that obtain in those cases are instructive to the migration case. (I do need to let someone camp in my yard if they will die otherwise, I don’t if it will improve their utility by 8 units and decrease mine by 6, etc. etc.)

    But I fear you are assuming what needs to be proved. Namely, a “human right to freedom of migration.” I do not believe that right exists in the context of a legitimately established state. When a legitimately established state, through a legitimate political process, determines that it wants to restrict entry, I do *not* believe I have a fundamental human right to enter that state. I don’t think I have a right to enter Switzerland without a passport, for example.

    It is my understanding that every legitimate state in existence claims the right to determine rules that govern migration (and not just citizenship). It is also my understanding that the vast majority of people in these states recognize those rights and believe they are representations of popular sovereignty. Given this, I do not think it is sufficient for supporters of open borders to shift the burden of proof or simply stipulate a right which is not widely recognized or accepted.

    [As an aside, John Lee’s piece is not convincing. Of course, open borders does not *logically entail* open citizenship, but there are many practical reasons to believe that open borders will, in the United States, lead to greatly expanded citizenship]


    • RPLong says:


      My first question to you is: What is sufficient to make something morally required? I would guess that this is a bit of a personal judgment call. You make your call and I make mine – but then it is not reasonable to say that either of us have insufficiently justified our moral sentiment; we’ve simply reached different conclusions. Now, that’s an abstract question that I feel justifies my moral position every bit as strongly as it justifies yours.

      But then my second question to you is practical: What is your moral calculus telling you about immigration? We know that immigrants improve local economic conditions, improve their own lives, and offer us non-economic benefits in the form of friendships, marriages, cultural and artistic influences, etc. You might claim that immigrants influence the political landscape in a way you find displeasing, or that you dislike “their” culture, or that you experienced a small decrease in your hourly wage. But from a moral standpoint, have you adequately justified immigration restrictionism in light of its benefits to both you and the potential immigrants? Can you make that case for me?

      I think you’re correct that freedom of migration is an assumption on my part. So let me make a back-of-the-envelope claim about freedom of migration: If we ignore international borders and think only about your life within your own community, if you could not exercise your freedom of migration, you could not exercise your right to life. You could not provide for yourself if you were not allowed to travel beyond the borders of your own private property and interact with other members of the community. We accept this freedom at the community level, at the city level, at the county level, at the state level, and even at the national level. All I’m doing is extending the same logic to international borders.

      Thus, my third question for you is: What makes international borders particularly unique in this regard?

      • Fake Herzog says:


        This is what is known as “stacking the deck”:

        We know that immigrants improve local economic conditions, improve their own lives, and offer us non-economic benefits in the form of friendships, marriages, cultural and artistic influences, etc. You might claim that immigrants influence the political landscape in a way you find displeasing, or that you dislike “their” culture, or that you experienced a small decrease in your hourly wage.

        I mean, really, could this be any more biased? I don’t know any of these so-called ‘facts’ with any degree of certainty and would counter with all sorts of additional claims you conveniently left out (e.g. this one or this one).

  4. Ben A says:

    What is necessary to make something morally required?

    Not a question easy to answer in a comment box! I think I am morally required to give money to effective charities. I do not think I am morally required pauperize myself, but I probably should be giving more than I do. I am not generally required to steal the money of the non-charitable and give it to charity. But in some circumstances, I could imagine playing Robin Hood would be a moral imperative. The very difficulty of such a question with regard to something as unproblematic (?) as property (or even self-ownership, where I think the above, mutatis mutantis applies to my time) may explain some of the agita we see in these discussions. I read a lot of open borders advocacy that essentially assumes that anyone who does not take a very extreme position (all migration limitations/regulations are rights violations) is morally suspect or must be racist/xenophobic/what have you.

    What is your moral calculus telling you about immigration?

    I think the answer to this depends on the state in question. First, is this a state which has a generally ‘republican’ character — do we expect all residents to be citizens. If yes, then I think a citizen of that state is justified in thinking about immigration as a balancing of the benefits that accrue to all from immigration vs. the challenges that migration brings. If I were a citizen of some ethnically homogeneous, high-trust, high social welfare society, I would probably be very worried about assimilation, how well it will work, and I’d probably want a ‘go slow’ solution until I had seen migration working well. In a state like the US where we have more of a history of assimilation, I’d worry less about these kind of concerns (or they’d start to apply at a much higher level of immigration)

    More generally I would say that after staring life as something of a radical individualist, I find myself increasingly convinced that a general background of shared mores and custom is much more important to a society functioning effectively and justly than I had previously anticipated. So true open borders — which, I think would essentially result in an immediate swamping of all developed nations by people very unlikely to assimilate well into them, is going to be off the table in any event.

    In the US, I’d generally look for an immigration policy which privileged:

    1. Emigres facing significant threats or severe poverty in their home countries (immigration as a life-saving/life-altering intervention)
    2. Emigres who want to be US citizens and assimilate to general US norms (including, but not limited to: racial toleration, rights of women, liberal democracy)
    3. Emigres who aren’t going to be a net drain on the US treasury when they become citizens (which I want them to become)

    In addition, I confess that I’m a bit sensitive to the issue of wages at the low end of the scale. I personally benefit from immigration more or less without reservation. My job is not at risk from immigration, and immigration drives down the cost of many services I use. But we also have massive unemployment of less skilled workers, and low wages for many entry level jobs. I am not sure that increasing pressure there and trying to make up the difference with the social welfare system is a winning strategy.

    Thus, my third question for you is: What makes international borders particularly unique in this regard?

    1. Nations are the major unit of legitimate political organization and the institutions that secure most valued rights in the actual world. In a world of city states, I could easily imagine that you’d need some travel document to enter another city. In some hypothetical world in which all property is private and force-field protected, I would expect lots of small free-migration agreements. I can’t wait for our force-field future where the economies of scale for force evaporate! But we aren’t there.
    2. Obviously, national borders do not generally threaten the right to life. Saying “If you couldn’t walk outside you house you’d starve to death” is not a great support to the idea that Switzerland has *no claim* (and that is your position, as I understand it) that would prevent the migration of the 10 million Indonesians to Zurich.

    • RPLong says:

      My response to the first section…
      But it is a moral judgment call. If my morals are telling me there is an injustice in denying entry to a person whose life can be made substantially better off upon entry, at minimal cost to myself, then those are my ethics. If I can actually articulate this concept (which I just did), then you are at least aware of how you are violating my ethical principles. Your ethics may very well lead you to a different conclusion, but what needs to happen for the conversation to proceed on moral grounds is that we compare our moral principles to those of the other person and see whether we disagree with the specific principles, or if we merely weight them differently. But what I see so far is that we agree on nearly all of our principles. Thus, if our conclusions differ, then we could probably come to an agreement if we had the opportunity to really hash it out on moral grounds.

      My response to the 2nd section…
      What if I were to tell you that the policy that I believe privileges just those groups in just that order is a policy of open borders? 🙂

      My response to the 3rd section…
      You said, “Nations are the major unit of legitimate political organization and the institutions that secure most valued rights in the actual world.” Do you actually believe this? I find this interesting because it runs quite contrary to the principles on which the United States were founded. (For example, there is a reason why the country is called “The United States” and not “The Single Nation.”)

      • Ben A says:

        But it is a moral judgment call.

        Right. Everything is. Since much of the open border advocacy focuses on generalized benevolence, here’s a question for you. You could, right now, improve the lot of many people by donating more of your money/time to charity. I don’t know how much you donate now. But you clearly have a stopping rule. What is that rule?

        Do you actually believe this?

        Do you not? We’re talking about *today* not 1700 or 1400. When I think about the organizations that guarantee my rights, lo and behold, it’s the US Government. And as an aside — just to refocus on the Indonesia/Switserland reduction, I don’t think you’ve confronted this question adequately. I think it’s pretty obvious that in a true “open borders” world, every developed economy gets swamped by a huge number of migrants. Massive increase in population is disruptive — even if you think one incremental martian is as easy to assimilate into Switzerland as one incremental Swiss. Do you believe that if Switzerland’s population tripled via migration it would place enormous pressure on Swiss institutions, and might change the quality of the Swiss polity in many ways (some good, some bad, some not easily predictable? If not, why not?

  5. Ben A says:

    Actually, Ryan, let me propose that implict reductio directly. Let’s say 8 million Indonesians declare their intention of showing up on Switzerland’s border and demanding entry. Does the Swiss government have any basis for denying their entry in your view? If so, why?

    • RPLong says:

      This question doesn’t really jive in the mind of an open borders advocate. First, I don’t think entry into a country should have to be demanded. Second, I don’t think entry into a country should have to be granted. To answer this question in a meaningful way, I would have to first accept your premises, and I do not.

      But I suspect part of the answer lies in the fact that I don’t see an appreciable difference between a Swiss person and an Indonesian, so the question has far less relevance to me than it does to you.

      • Fake Herzog says:


        Are you serious about this: “I don’t see an appreciable difference between a Swiss person and an Indonesian”? I mean, there are racial differences, language differences, probably religious differences, there might be class differences, etc. But none of these differences are “appreciable” for you? Ultimately, this is where the rubber hits the road with respect to honest differences between the two sides — I think there are human national/ethnic/racial differences and they are appreciable in many different ways.

        By the way, don’t confuse this recognition of differences for a “dislike” (earlier you hinted that perhaps I might “dislike” other cultures). Just the opposite — it might be because I like and I’m interested in other cultures that I want to preserve their unique status around the world. In other words, it is interesting to me to go to Switzerland and experience Swiss culture and then go to Indonesia and experience Indonesian culture (both, of course, are varied and multi-faceted) rather than go to Switzerland and/or Indonesia and experience the same thing at each place!

      • Ben A says:

        But I think you’ve answered it. No, the Swiss have no valid claim against 8 million Indonesians moving in. Now as it happens, *I* see that as a reductio: a state has all sorts of prudential reasons to not want to have it’s population double via an overnight migration of people with whom the current residents have no shared history or language. It’s the definition of an event that would destabilize the polity.

        I see your answer as placing zero value on the any rights/claims/whatever that the Swiss government has, as the legitimate representative of the people of Switzerland, to prevent an obviously destabilizing event. And I think that’s why these discussions end up often with people talking past each other.

        I don’t see an appreciable difference between a Swiss person and an Indonesian

        If I can use this as a teachable moment, statements like these are really ones that it would behoove open borders advocates to use sparingly. This strikes me as one part self-congratulation and part intentionally obtuse.

        I believe an Indonesian and a Swiss (and a Martian, for that matter, as a neo-Kantian) are both created equal and all endowed by their creator with certain rights, among them being life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But that doesn’t mean if I had a city which was 100% Indonesian I think tripling the population by plunking down the population of Zurich isn’t going to cause a lot of problems. About the average Swiss and the average Indonesian: Do you think they speak the same language? Do you think on average they have the same level of education? Do you think they have the same cultural expectations? Thinking that everyone is morally equal and *should* get along is not the same as believing as a practical matter that rapid demographic change is frictionless. I don’t see the lesson of history as being “peaceful multi-ethnic liberal democracy: the default state of humanity and childishly easy to create and sustain.”

      • Ben A says:

        Ha! I see the same line got focus from both of us. Sorry to gum up your combox, fake Herzog!

  6. RPLong says:

    Fake Herzog:

    You misunderstand. My purpose in putting forth some really good benefits of immigration was to solicit the kind of negatives (i.e. from you or Ben) that are so negative that they outweigh the moral case for immigration.

    The intent was to state, “Considering all the positive aspects of immigration, can it really be said that the negatives are so negative that they specifically negate the moral case for immigration?” I intentionally listed some of the best and most important positives so that you would have an opportunity to make a case for the negatives.

    Regarding the two things you cited:

    1. The Sailer link discusses the problem of poverty among American citizens whose great-great grandparents were also native-born American citizens. I myself can only go back 4 generations (including myself) before I encounter an immigrant. Is this really relevant to a discussion about immigration? The President of the United States is more of an immigrant than the people Sailer discusses in that link. Ted Cruz is more of an immigrant than they are. I mean… just because they can trace their lineage to Mexico doesn’t mean they are immigrants. Unless, of course, you are now making the much stronger claim that any self-identified Mexican-American is not just an immigrant, but specifically the kind of immigrant you would like to exclude?

    2. Here’s a quote from your second link: “But a sizable portion of Mexican, as well as Central American, immigrants, however hardworking, lack the social capital to inoculate their children reliably against America’s contagious underclass culture.”

    Sound to me like US culture is adversely impacting immigrants, not the other way around.

    • Fake Herzog says:

      Fair enough — sorry about the misunderstanding. In response:

      1) the Ortiz and Telles study is so powerful because it does look at Mexican immigrants and their third to fifth generation children — look at the study again and it clearly states that the first cohort back in 1965 were first to third generation immigrants (so it includes recent arrivals as well as established immigrants);

      2) yes, part of the problem with Mexican and Central American immigration is their assimilation into the ghetto — I don’t think those same immigrants have out-of-wedlock births in their home countries over 50% (although I could be wrong) — so part of my argument is why make a bad problem in this country worse — for whatever reason (and yes, I think it has to do with race and culture) these immigrants are not assimilating into the middle-class as we would hope, at least not when we allow large numbers of them into the country

      • RPLong says:

        On #1 I must insist: Someone who you describe as being a “3rd generation immigrant” is actually a native-born US citizen. To classify such people as immigrants is to dodge the truth of their situation. If a 3rd-generation “immigrant” isn’t a citizen, then who is?

        On #2, I find this somewhat puzzling, and tied to the reply I am about to write to the both of you below this one. Why is “the ghetto” not a part of your national culture? If an immigrant assimilates into a community of native-born, 100% US citizens, then they have met any assimilation “requirement” anyone can reasonably expect. But you don’t merely wish that immigrants would assimilate – you wish them to assimilate into a particular American sub-culture. Do you think this is reasonable? Are we only Americans if we are middle-class, white, 6th-or-more-generation Americans?

  7. RPLong says:

    Regarding Ben’s reductio:
    Your reductio places a surprisingly large amount of weight on the border itself. But it is not the mere crossing of a border that matters here, it is the extent to which an Indonesian might interact with a Swiss within Switzerland. Merely walking into Switzerland is not a “destabilizing” act. The only thing that could be considered “destabilizing” is walking into a country and interacting with its citizens in a negative way. I find it odd that your scenario is silent on the fact that there may be very good Indonesians among the 8 million, who would impact Switzerland in a positive way. That is unfortunate.

    Regarding cultural differences
    The only thing that all Indonesians have in common with all other Indonesians is being an Indonesian. Any further claim you make about Indonesians is necessarily couched in general language with heavy qualifications and innumerable exceptions. I would be curious to know whether either of you have even been to Indonesia.

    Yet, as FH has pointed out, there are similar “cultural differences” between residents of the “ghetto” and residents of “middle class America.” I think the problem you run into when you emphasize these cultural differences is that every point you make applies equally to communities within nations as it does to communities across nations. In other words, if you take the time to differentiate between Indonesians, Swiss, new Mexican immigrants, 3rd generation Mexican “immigrants,” 5th generation Mexican “immigrants,” middle class Americans, and so forth, then what do you have left?

    In truth, there are people who can be classified as members of five of these groups simultaneously. How on Earth can you decide which box people fit in? If culture is important, how do you decide which piece of it is relevant? Once you’ve decided which piece is relevant, how do you say unequivocally that the piece in question actually is held universally by all members of the culture to which you’re referring?

    In contrast, I assess people according to their individual personalities. In my experience, demographic data has precious little to do with that.

  8. Fake Herzog says:


    I agree that some of that first cohort from 1965 were native-born US citizens — you are correct to refer to those Mexcian-Americans as citizens. BUT, others were recent first generation immigrants — look at the table from Sailer’s post, it can’t be any clearer!

    As for the ghetto being part of our national culture — we may always have the poor with us, but we don’t always have to have or want the ghetto (in the sense of a dysfunctional families, multi-generationally poor, etc.) In otherwords, as American citizens, we should rightly view the problems of the ghetto as those we want to help solve — not exacerbate! The residents of Englewood, here in Chicago, are my fellow citizens, but they deserve my pity (or need my help) — they don’t have a culture that is worthy of emulation!

    • RPLong says:

      My point was that you don’t get to pick-and-choose who counts as being representative of “American culture.” The inner city is as much a part of America as the Texas cattle ranches or the uppity college towns. It’s all America. If immigrants find a place in any of those sub-cultures (and I have seen them in all three), then they have assimilated into the culture every bit as much as the rest of us have.

      It may be true that our culture has problems associated with any one ofthese sub-cultures, or all three. But that wouldn’t be a problem with immigration. In other words, the problem with the inner city is that it is the inner city, not that there are too many immigrants in the inner city.

      But there is another way to defeat that study. Consider the following…

      If we accept utilitarianism as a valid ethical framework, then the “problem” really comes down to whether or not you believe that a lower-class, “5th generation American immigrant” is materially worse-off than a lower-class, 4th generation Mexican national. If the answer is yes, then what you are really arguing is that you believe the American lower class is worse-off than the Mexican lower-class. Is this true? But, if the answer is no, then utilitarianism suggests that even a lower-class “5th generation immigrant” is better off here than they would have been in absence of immigration.

      So, if you accept utilitarianism, then you must admit that the study has serious problems. You might not accept utilitarianism, of course, but I thought I’d mention it in case you do.

  9. RPLong says:

    Ben A,

    What is my moral rule for the endpoint of charitable donations?

    Let’s review what we were discussing in case we are getting lost:

    1. You said that the desperation of would-be immigrants is not sufficient to present a moral mandate for open borders.
    2. I asked you, in that case, what would be sufficient?
    3. Rather than answer this question, you pointed out that when open borders advocates claim a moral mandate on immigration, it rubs their opponents the wrong way.
    4. I reiterated that, nonetheless, it is a moral judgement call and my morals are telling me something here.

    It was in that context that you asked me about my rule for charity. Here I must point out that you are simply asking me the same question I asked you, without first giving your own answer.

    But, to wit, I’m not sure I have a rule that is any more complex than, “I give up until the point that it feels tasteless to give more.” I can explain my use of the term “tasteless,” but we’ll have to defer that to a future conversation on charity.

    Here’s the important part, though: Immigration costs me so little that, in my moral calculus, it is senseless to object to it. To see this more clearly, consider reversing your reductio. Consider how many new immigrants are required before you begin to feel your community has been “destabilized.” Whatever that number is, why object to any level of immigration up until we reach it?

    Regarding your question about the Swiss

    First, before I proceed, let’s formally recognize that your position on the political supremacy of nations runs entirely contrary to the position of the US Founding Fathers. I think this is important. You are obviously not a Constitutional conservative, and while there is nothing inherently wrong with that, I feel that it severely weakens your appeals to natural rights arguments against immigration. The Framers were strict adherents to natural rights, so much so that they did not consider nations to be the fundamental political unit. You are carving out a position in which you believe in natural rights only insofar as they provide an argument against immigration.

    Now, the question is, “Would a tripling of the Swiss population strain Swiss institutions?” The answer is yes, no, and maybe. Obviously it depends on which institution we’re talking about, and what type of “strain” you are claiming it will endure. This is what I have referred to on my blog as a “Shotgun Theory.” That is, it’s an idea that seems plausible on the surface, but starts to become less plausible the deeper you go.

    For example, would a large population increase strain the Swiss public safety net? Yes, but only if the number of welfare payments increased more than the number of contributions to the socialist institutions. Is that guaranteed? Or likely? We’d be speculating. But note carefully that if we oppose social welfare institutions – as I do – then straining them to the breaking point can only be seen as a positive. So on the one hand, the strain might not occur, and on the other, it might be a good thing even if it does occur.

    Thus, the conclusion is at best mixed. Is uncertainty a valid argument against the moral case for immigration? Not in my opinion.

    • Ben A says:

      On Switzerland

      Ryan, I think you aren’t facing the reductio squarely. You raise practical questions — “Is that guaranteed? Or likely? We’d be speculating.” I sure think it’s pretty likely that an overnight tripling (!) of the population of a Switzerland via migration from a much poorer one is going to stress the social welfare system! To say nothing of stressing basic infrastructure.

      But the idea of a reductio is really to stipulate certain effects. Let’s say there’s a legitimate democratic polity X, and the citizens of that polity believe *correctly* (that is the stipulation) that an open borders policy will lead to massive immigration that will rapidly: a) change their social welfare policy requiring significant reduction of benefits and change in structure, b) increase stress on their infrastructure requiring significant additional expenditure c) significantly impede the society’s ability to assimilate these new immigrants to the prevailing cultural norms. You say even given all these facts. this polity has *zero* right to restrict migration in any way. Indeed, even if the citizens knew as a *fact* that they these migrants would inevitably become citizens, and vote to enact laws the current citizens find antithetical, they would lack that right. Correct? The actual weighing of pros and cons does not matter, because you believe migration is a right nations have no right to abridge. I believe they have that right. And should weigh costs and benefits.

      You said that the desperation of would-be immigrants is not sufficient to present a moral mandate for open borders

      I don’t think I said that exactly. First, open borders is about letting anyone in, not about using immigration as a tool purely to relieve suffering. I think what I said was simply improving people’s well being, as opposed to saving people’s lives, does not suffice to remove any rights a nation has to govern it’s immigration policy. If people are on the border about to be murdered, my view is you are morally required to let them in. If migration is a way to making people’s lives better we have lots of tools to do that, immigration policy is only one tool. That’s why charity is relevant: we all know we could do more. We all have a stopping rule. I think the elements of that stopping rule is informative *if* we believe that nations have some moral right to weigh costs and benefits of immigration in forming policy. (per above)

      You are carving out a position in which you believe in natural rights only insofar as they provide an argument against immigration.>/b>

      Wait? What? How am I doing that? All I’m saying is that Nations themselves have some moral standing. Not *ultimate* moral standing. I think people organized into a legitimate nation have some right to control their immigration policy, that *derives* from the rights of people to self-govern.

      let’s formally recognize that your position on the political supremacy of nations runs entirely contrary to the position of the US Founding Fathers

      I’m not sure what this is all about. Generally, when someone talks about “the position” (singular) of the Founding Fathers (plural) I tend to suspect potted intellectual history. I guess I’m vaguely curious about what people thought about immigration policy when technical barriers made large scale migration infeasible. But I would be unlikely to regard, e.g., Thomas Jefferson’s or Benjamin Franklin’s thoughts as decisive for current Swiss policy.

      • RPLong says:

        Sorry, it is tough keeping all aspects of the conversation straight. To continue..

        First, on Switzerland:
        I don’t think your hypothetical is useful anymore. Where did this “tripling” number come from? Is this some kind of reliable estimate, or are you just reaching for a really big number in order to make immigration look bad? Do you imagine they would all appear overnight, or do you imagine that as the population density of Switzerland increases, newly arriving immigrants face diminishing returns on the prospect of improving their lot by immigrating to Switzerland? In short, we are now talking about a very specific concept that tells us nothing about open borders per se. I don’t want to get wrapped up in a convoluted hypothetical. I am not sure why you think open borders would result in an overnight tripling of the Swiss population, so perhaps we can start there?

        Second, on natural rights:
        I don’t know a single open borders advocate (or anyone else for that matter) who objects to charity. But charity costs you money and if there are costs to you from immigration, they are at best indirect. So if we are talking about effective means of improving the lives of others, there is at least a utilitarian case for open borders ahead of charity. It is fair to reject utilitarianism here, but only if you replace it with some other moral framework that consistently results in an immigration-restrictionist conclusion. Have you already given it, and I have just missed it?

        Recall why we started talking about national borders: I said that my position consistently treated all political borders – municipal, state, international – equally. You said that you thought international borders were special because they are “the major unit of legitimate political organization.” I stated that this is not how the Framers saw it (the evidence for this is the fact that they crafted a federal system, i.e. one in which something other than nations are the primary unit of political organization).

        Now, it’s possible that you were using the word “major” such that it is not synonymous with “primary.” If so, perhaps you can clarify your meaning of what constitutes a “major unit of legitimate political organization,” and why you see that nations are moreso than states or cities or anything else.

  10. Ben A says:

    I don’t want to get wrapped up in a convoluted hypothetical

    I’m afraid you’re avoiding a key question here. If you believe open borders is a moral obligation, you will support open borders even if it would have bad results on a given polity. I can’t really believe this is your position. But it *seems* to be, and that’s what the hypothetical was meant to elucidate. *Stipulate* bad/disruptive results on a given polity, does that polity still have a moral obligation to have open borders?

    As I mentioned above, I’m generally in favor of high levels of immigration. But I think it’s reasonable/prudent and *morally justified* for a polity to think about in determining how to regulate immigration and what levels to allow: the costs of immigration, the society’s ability to assimilate immigrants, how it will effect the balance of political power, and what kind of society they want to have (for example, do they want most residents not to be citizens).

    But all of this is irrelevant if the society could never have a right to limit immigration. Hence the stipulation — to explore your intuitions about what could make some degree of control justifiable.

    • RPLong says:

      I’m afraid I’m going to have to take a page from David Friedman’s book here. Obviously no right or lack thereof is – in and of itself – sufficient to justify a bizarre hypothetical. For example, if for some reason closing all borders to immigration could prevent a large asteroid from crashing into the Earth and wiping out all life as we know it, then I would certainly opt for closed borders!

      But, then again, how informative is a hypothetical of that kind?

      • Ben A says:

        Not responsive, sorry. We don’t need to say “an evil demon who…”

        Stipulate that for country X, moving to open borders will decrease the well being of the current citizens meaningfully. Maybe they’ll need to increase tax revenues by 20%, and they’ll have impacts on their culture that are deeply unpopular. Stipulate further that none of the immigrants are people who are going to die, and in deep desperation, etc. They are just people who will do better in country X than in their home country.

        Does country X have any right to exclude?

  11. RPLong says:


    This still isn’t working for me. Why not stipulate that immigration causes no significant adverse affects whatsoever? We could go back and forth with unreasonable hypotheticals many times over and still not be any further in unraveling the issues.

    What would be helpful is if you provided some kind of evidence for assuming from the get-go that immigration requires higher tax revenues and that cultures – which are changing constantly, irrespective of immigration policy – are sure to follow popular trajectories unless acted upon by the force of immigration.

    Because it is starting to feel like you are asking me to hypothetically assume for the sake of argument that immigration is bad and then ask me that if immigration is assumed to be bad, there is any natural rights argument to stop it. If this is the question, then my answer is, “Any hypothetical competition comes down to whichever natural right you rank highest.”

  12. Ben says:

    No. This is an argument about what rights states/political units have. I think that political units have a (defeasible) right to limit and regulate migration. You appear to think no such right exists. I say ‘appear’ because this position is very extreme (and, in my view, pretty clearly wrong), so it’s hard for me to believe you really hold it. So that’s what I’m trying to explore. If you were willing to acknowledge a situation in which a state would be legitimate in regulating migration — that a state possesses that right in principal — then we could try to build to consensus about what constitute reasonable/unreasonable exercise of that right.

    This is all to one side of the actual case for a certain level of migration in a certain country. Of course, in any given case there will be pros and cons, and I suspect we’d find a fair bit of common ground on specific cases.

    Jeff Friedman has a good peice on libertarians (and he is one) who believe property is an absolute right and believe an aboslute right to property is beneficial — his point is that you should’t shift back and forth between justifications. If X is a right, it’s a right even if it’s exercise in a certain case can have many bad consequences. If migration is a right, it will be a right even if it has bad consequences. So I’m not really interested in claims that it won’t have those consequences. Maybe so! But it’s not on point to figuring out if it’s a right, and how defeasible a right it is….

    • RPLong says:


      Your point hinges on a natural rights absolutist view. I don’t subscribe to that view, and I would argue that in practice no one actually does. If you’re seeking to win the debate by identifying either (a) that absolutist, deontological views of natural rights cause problems, or that (b) I am willing to acknowledge that this view is problematic and thus stop short of adhering to the absolutist natural rights position, then I think you ought to expand your view of rights and ethics. I am not a deontologist, so there is no need poking holes in a deontological argument for open borders.

      I do not believe property is an “absolute right.” I do not believe anything is an “absolute right.” That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in rights at all, it just means that I don’t hold a deontological view of rights.

      Is this a problem? It certainly might be – but it’s a problem that no philosopher in human history has ever managed to solve, so I don’t think it counts against me here. 😉


  13. Ben A says:

    Here we go again! On the rights issue, think we both are committed to some ‘rights’ views. You take the view that the citizens of a nation have no right to regulate immigration. Why? I *assume* your view is not purely consequentialist. Namely, you think there’s a right to migration. Most of your arguments tend to assume the right to migration as natural, and and use that assumption as leverage to throw the burden of proof on those who want to regulate migration *in any way.* So far correct, yes?

    I also think there’s a rights issue here — citizens of a polity have a right to regulate migration and to regulate citizenship. I don’t have a right to be a citizen of Switzerland. And I don’t have a right to migrate to Switzerland in a way which violates the legitimate political decisions of the Swiss state. (If Switzerland, e.g., says I need a visa to enter, they are not violating my right. If they only want 10,000 people to migrate a year, they are not violating my right).

    So three questions for you:
    1. You appear to think states *do* have a right to regulate citizenship. Why do you think they possess that right?
    2. You don’t think states t have a right to regulate migration. Why is migration categorically different from citizenship?
    3. Given that in our actual world migration tends to result in citizenship, why is it not legitimate for someone who wants to regulate citizenship (which in your view is licit), and who sees no *practical* way to separate migration from citizenship, to seek to regulate migration?

    • RPLong says:

      Ben, very good questions. First I’ll add a bit about rights, then I’ll answer them.

      No, I am not a pure consequentialist. Technically, I consider myself a virtue ethicist, but I do make ample use of utilitarianism. I believe in absolute right and wrong, and I believe that an absolute right will satisfy all available (non-perverse) moral theories. I believe freedom of migration satisfies both the natural right of the immigrant to seek greater security of person AND the natural right of the “host community” to do business freely with all other people including newcomers. I believe immigration restrictions impose on my natural right to free trade and to pursue contracts and relationships with immigrants. But, as you can see, I am also capable of supplying consequentialist arguments for these positions, as well.

      Now, onto the questions:

      1. I think states presume the right to regulate citizenship solely so that they can enforce tax laws. I think technology has advanced to the point where this is really unnecessary. In a world with open borders, there would be few clear benefits to citizenship.

      2. I guess there are two main reasons (and plenty of minor reasons). First, citizenship doesn’t tie you to a location in a way that might lead you to starve to death or die. Second, in a closed-borders world, citizenship is more voluntary than migration. I don’t typically object to voluntary arrangements.

      3. I see no necessary link between migration and citizenship, especially not in today’s world. I lived abroad for many years and ultimately returned to my home country. Many of my family members have lived in various countries, only to ultimately settle in places very different from where they were born. Many people I know only bothered to seek citizenship in Western countries so that they could travel more freely by using their new country’s passports. I know dozens of people who have dual citizenship statuses. When I lived abroad, many people asked me why I wasn’t pursuing dual citizenship. My answer then feels even more accurate now than it did at the time: I didn’t see any benefit to gaining additional citizenship, and I didn’t want to spend the rest of my life paying taxes in multiple countries. This goes back to my answer to question #1.

      • Ben A says:

        Thanks Ryan. You say states ‘presume’ the right. But do they in fact have this right, a moral right? Or to put the point another way — do people have the right to voluntarily form a polity which excludes others from citizenship?

        This is a classic ideal vs. non-ideal justice type of issue (to adopt a Rawlsian term), because we know no existing state was formed this way. But I would imagine that in the ideal case, you’d agree. If people go and form a state on some unoccupied, unclaimed land, they have the right to set the terms of citizenship.

        [By the way. Brief thought experiment evoked by your comments on the benefits of citizenship. Lets’s say polity X wants to do things the following way: tax non-citizens and citizens differently. If you are a citizen, very low taxes. If you are a non-citizen, resident, very high taxes. Punishments for tax evasion: severe. Is this a licit arrangement?]

  14. RPLong says:


    Any polity is by definition an exclusion of others. I think people have a right to choose as individuals who they wish to interact with. I don’t think people have a right to forcibly exclude certain other individuals from attempting to interact. That’s an important difference. If you decide you don’t want to interact with me, I am okay with that. But, if you decide that I shouldn’t be allowed to interact with anyone you know, I think we’d both agree that this is morally reprehensible and that no such right could possibly be enforced if indeed it were a natural right. Your natural rights define what you can do. Your natural rights do not define what I cannot do. I think that’s what I’m getting at.

    Re: your thought experiment: I object to that arrangement, but I’m not sure I do so on grounds of natural rights. Taxation is a tough sell whenever you bring natural rights into the equation, because there is no good natural rights argument for taxation in general. Forcing non-citizens to bear the brunt of an existing violation of natural rights strikes me as being highly immoral, although I’m not sure it’s any more of a violation of natural rights than any sort of tax.

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