For those who don’t know, Anonymous1 and I had a conversation about this topic over the Thanksgiving break (Alice was forced to participate since she was awake in the car while me and Anonymous1 jabbered on about this, sorry Alice). Afterwards I decided to write down my thoughts and rationale. Any comments are welcome. If this email is too long, I don’t blame you for passing.
The debate topic was on a particular immigration policy: let anyone take a job anywhere. I can equally justify the more liberal stance of open boarders, which is what I focus for the rest of this (short) essay. My rationale for this position is two fold. First, it is morally wrong to do otherwise. If one truly cares about inequality or poverty, how is it not morally reprehensible to favor immigration restrictions that trap millions of people to the Third World? I say this to point out that, on the surface, it is not at all clear that immigration restrictions are the moral thing to do. On top of the moral argument, open boarders would be a net benefit to everyone in the world, especially those that would clearly benefit in the Third World by migration to the First World.
Instead of showing that everyone (on net) will be worse of with open boarders - which is something that is very difficult to do - people usually have to restrict their attention to the citizens of the First World and show that they will be worse off. This makes some sense, as each person cares more about any effects to their society rather than what happens on net to everyone in the world. But even if one focuses on the First World, immigration restrictions make little sense, bringing me to my second reason for this position. Open boarders would be an economic success to everyone, especially those in the First World. It would roughly double world GDP (see below for the source of this figure). Now world GDP is not the same as USA GDP, but we would clearly benefit us here as much of the gains to migration would be captured by the First World. Clearly, people would migrate here, where the gains of this increased GDP would occur. I don’t see immigration restrictions being a barrier to Americans wanting to start a business in Haiti, or work in Zimbabwe. Also, it is not clear to what extent there are negative effects to those that choose not to migrate out of the Third World (see Clemens, discussed below).
My stance is motivated by research done by Bryan Caplan, who makes the moral argument, and Micheal Clemens, who looks at the economic gains. A good paper by Caplan on the moral arguments can be found here(pdf). He also sites some of the existing literature on immigration restrictions and economic growth. Clemens makes his claims to economic prosperity here where he comes up with the ‘double world GDP’ figure. Clemens also reviews the existing literature on the subject in that paper. There is even more at the site openborders.info, which has research for both sides of the argument. Lastly, there was a debate about this very topic late October at intelligencesquaredus.org. You’ll find video and audio to the debate here. I listened to it, and concluded that the argument against open boarders relies on ones concern that things will be worse, not actual research that things will be worse (I’m not trying to say that this is what you’re doing, just that this is what was done).