The Case for Open Borders
December 27, 2019 10:49 AM   Subscribe

Libertarian economist Bryan Caplan has been arguing for open borders for awhile now. Caplan's latest effort is a graphic book, Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, illustrated by Zach Weinersmith of SMBC. posted by chavenet (41 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
 
Also previously: Capital Knows No Borders But Workers Do
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:04 AM on December 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Caplan is of the very, very rare breed of Libertarian who tends toward promoting actual individual liberty rather than the "freedom" of simply switching the ultimate authority from government to corporation. It's still the same pure bollocks as other fantasies where people are perfectly rational actors and frictionless spheres, but to his credit, it's a worldview that's merely blisteringly naive rather than one that is mere window dressing for plutocracy and serfdom.
posted by tclark at 11:29 AM on December 27, 2019 [23 favorites]


In fairness to him, he's saying, "removing these barriers will help a lot," and not "removing these barriers is a cure-all."
posted by explosion at 11:34 AM on December 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


Caplan is of the very, very rare breed of Libertarian who tends toward promoting actual individual liberty rather than the "freedom" of simply switching the ultimate authority from government to corporation.

Is he? It's true that he's not as openly contemptuous and cruel as his fellow libertarians, but he's an avowed anarcho-capitalist. His ideal world would be the inevitable "plutocracy and serfdom" that would result from such ideology, though it's nice he'd feel kind of bad about it.
posted by the legendary esquilax at 11:38 AM on December 27, 2019 [8 favorites]


it’s pretty neat reading through the negative reviews on that amazon link, because the opponents of immigration give their unguarded genuine views. which are of course straightforwardly racist and also dumb as hell. basically, most of their objections to caplan’s thesis can be summarized as “brown people do crimes! crimes! they are always criming because they are brown! they crime everywhere! they crime here, they crime there! keep them away! they do yucky gross crimes!”

borders are a weapon that capital uses against humans. abolishing borders is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for building a decent world.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:42 AM on December 27, 2019 [33 favorites]


basically, their objections to caplan’s thesis are “brown people do crimes! crimes! they are always criming because they are brown! they crime everywhere! they crime here, they crime there! keep them out!”

Well, they say that right up until they need a maid or a gardener or someone to do some other menial job that they can pay below minimum wage under the table.
posted by drivingmenuts at 11:47 AM on December 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


also several of the reviewers object to how the smbc guy draws immigrants and non-immigrants as looking roughly alike. they see this as deceptive artwork, because, the reviewers argue, immigrants look yucky.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:53 AM on December 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


Caplan's thinking on this subject proves that there ARE places where people who disagree on other issues can still find common ground, and that taking united action on those grounds could result in profoundly good outcomes.

I find him a difficult and frankly uncomfortable person to read on other subjects but I can't deny that his thinking has helped clarify my own, even when I disagree with him.

Oh, and this book is fucking great.
posted by Sokka shot first at 11:58 AM on December 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


His ideal world would be the inevitable "plutocracy and serfdom" that would result from such ideology, though it's nice he'd feel kind of bad about it.

I know nothing about the guy and so have no context about his political leanings. Maybe I'm naive, but when I read that long podcast transcript I didn't get the idea that "plutocracy and serfdom" is his goal. He makes pretty clear that he thinks there's no reason we should leave people to suffer in poor countries when they could come here and improve their lives. While economic benefit is certainly a central thesis, there does appear to be a moral component to it. He also states what I've always thought, which is that the people who get most upset about immigration are those who don't live in places that experience much of it at all (e.g. up here with me in New Hampshire).
posted by schoolgirl report at 11:59 AM on December 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


well, doubling the GDP is certainly no goal i'm interested in.

i don't think building a wall is that good of an idea but borders are very effective on many scales. i tend to believe in the fractal view of the world and borders exist at all sorts of organism levels. so what makes a functional border at the scale of nation state? probably someone where in between...
posted by danjo at 12:04 PM on December 27, 2019 [1 favorite]


inevitable "plutocracy and serfdom"

Doesn't it follow that the plutocrats can choose to relocate where worker protections are slim, but the serfs can choose to relocate to a worker's paradise? He pretty much hints at this when he talks about how open borders reduces the power of the autocrat, as people can more easily choose to leave.

Yes, workers are not "perfectly spherical," and there's real friction in the cost of relocating one's family and life, but the point is that plutocracy is not inevitable. If borders are more open, even plutocratic nations need to provide some modicum of worker protections to stay close-ish to the more worker-friendly nations.
posted by explosion at 12:06 PM on December 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


> Maybe I'm naive, but when I read that long podcast transcript I didn't get the idea that "plutocracy and serfdom" is his goal.

the thing with anarchocapitalists isn't necessarily that they have plutocracy and serfdom as a desired end goal, it's that they're (willfully?) naïve about how capitalist economic relations tend toward the establishment of plutocracy and serfdom.

that said, in my experience with ancaps, the second you get a couple of drinks in 'em they admit to preferring plutocracy and serfdom. the ones i've known — and your mileage may vary here, i might have just happened to know a few particularly shitty ancaps — hypothesize that:
  1. the outcomes established through the market are just and good,
  2. the market when left to its own devices prefers to concentrate money and power in a few hands,
  3. and so therefore plutocracy and serfdom are just and good.
needless to say, every drunk ancap who's told me this has believed that they'd end up on the plutocrat side rather than the serf side.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:12 PM on December 27, 2019 [14 favorites]


Open borders are not only morally and ethically right, they also serve as a beginning to reparations for past and current harms caused by white supremacist Western colonialism/imperialism and the current and future harms caused by climate change, which will affect poor people of color in countries often already decimated by white supremacist Western colonialism/imperialism (not to mention that the brunt of climate change is being caused by Western countries).

I look forward to the day when liberals and moderates in the West can get behind this instead of pretending there is any sort of moral rightness to the cosmic horror they have played a role in creating.
posted by Ouverture at 12:13 PM on December 27, 2019 [21 favorites]


His ideal world would be the inevitable "plutocracy and serfdom" that would result from such ideology, though it's nice he'd feel kind of bad about it.

That's about all the credit I'm offering, here, and why his worldview is stupidly naive rather than actively evil (though it is often hard to tell the difference). Just about every other Libertarian I've come across, in just about every circle, see plutocracy and serfdom as the natural state of free human affairs, and actually want it to happen because, fools that they are, they flatter themselves to be smart and useful enough to either enter the plutocrat class, or live comfortably off the table scraps while Other People get to be the shitmunchers.

They really don't like it when you tell them they're delusional and they'll end up shitmunchers, too.
posted by tclark at 12:15 PM on December 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


It's interesting to get this context- I ordered the book almost entirely on the basis it was illustrated by Zach Weinersmith, who I tend to think of as one of the Good People.

On preview: I look forward to the day when liberals and moderates in the West can get behind this...

I'm not holding my breath, based on how liberals and moderates become fire-breathing NIMBYs when it comes to addressing poverty in their own communities.
posted by simra at 12:16 PM on December 27, 2019 [19 favorites]


I'm not holding my breath, based on how liberals and moderates become fire-breathing NIMBYs when it comes to addressing poverty in their own communities.

Quoted For Motherfucking Truth
posted by tclark at 12:19 PM on December 27, 2019 [8 favorites]


borders are very effective on many scales.

Effective at what?
posted by PMdixon at 12:25 PM on December 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


borders are very effective on many scales.

Effective at what?


reminding us of where two opposed armies finally ran out of steam and stopped murdering each other? Sometimes metaphorically, all too often literally.
posted by philip-random at 12:38 PM on December 27, 2019 [7 favorites]


"borders are very effective on many scales."

Effective at what?


okay. maybe effective is too loaded a word but they do exist in all sorts of places.

from cell walls, to the skin on animals, to the walls of a building, to rivers and mountains that divide ecosystems.

temperature regulation is one function. fluid retention another. make your photos look better. the list goes on...
posted by danjo at 12:40 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


so what makes a functional border at the scale of nation state?

That depends what function you expect. The US is kinda crazy about what a border should and could do. These expectations get absurd pretty quickly.
posted by 2N2222 at 12:44 PM on December 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


Delineated borders are necessary for any landmass with more than one government, just because you need to know whose laws you're supposed to follow at any given time. Controlled borders are a separate question, and border-based immigration restrictions are an even more specific case.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 12:54 PM on December 27, 2019 [11 favorites]


see the thing is here we are talking about borders between nation-states rather than about cell walls or skin or building walls or rivers or mountains or i don't know borders between sets of pixels in a bitmap or whatever. probably it is best when talking about borders between nation-states to actually focus on borders between nation-states rather than arguing from analogy with other sorts of separation structure.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:54 PM on December 27, 2019 [18 favorites]


but i mean also: fuck nation-states forever those things are pure ass.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 12:55 PM on December 27, 2019 [18 favorites]


see the thing is here we are talking about borders between nation-states rather than about cell walls or skin or building walls or rivers or mountains or i don't know borders between sets of pixels in a bitmap or whatever. probably it is best when talking about borders between nation-states to actually focus on borders between nation-states rather than arguing from analogy with other sorts of separation structure.

And considering the people most affected by current border regimes are poor people of color and marginalized religious minorities, I think it's a pretty bizarre and ignorant tangent to go on.
posted by Ouverture at 12:59 PM on December 27, 2019 [9 favorites]


You can see from the Q+A that Bryan Caplan's a good interviewee.
I saw that last year when we hosted him on my program. He took every participant's question very seriously.
posted by doctornemo at 1:38 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]



reminding us of where two opposed armies finally ran out of steam and stopped murdering each other? Sometimes metaphorically, all too often literally.


There’s a pretty robust literature on the historical evolution of borders. They rarely result from territorial disputes or militarization. Borders generally follow previous administrative boundaries, natural boundaries, etc.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 2:04 PM on December 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


This is an era when MORE nation states are aborning, as a reflection of democratic will. Yugoslavia splitting into multiple countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia divorcing, separatist movements trying hard in Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, etc. That means many people are longing for more borders, with their own 'local' control.
posted by PhineasGage at 5:02 PM on December 27, 2019 [3 favorites]


That's kind of oversimplifying things. Yugoslavia was a hodgepodge of ethnic groups lumped into a country upon the breakup of the Austro-Hungarian empire. Like most things involving borders at the time, the Western European nations drew them so that the different ethnicities would be at each other's throats. The country was doomed from the very start.

Czechoslovakia was similar but it also divorced in a much more civilized manner. Partly because the two ethnic groups had remained separate and amicable but they just didn't want the overhead of doing everything twice, once in Czech and once in Slovak. You have to deal with balancing power, balancing funding, it's all just a mess that didn't have a whole lot of benefit.

IMO, Scotland/Catalonia are probably the result of a national polity that doesn't give a shit. People feel unheard so they agitate to control their own destiny. The English felt unheard in the EU (despite all evidence to the contrary) so they voted for Brexit. Scotland feels unheard in the UK, they want out. Catalonia continues to be lumped in with Spain but is culturally distinct and also has a modern history of cultural oppression by Franco. It'd be like if France had Belgium and The Netherlands as provinces and CDG was an authoritarian French nationalist who tried to wipe out any notion of Dutch culture or language. It's kind of ridiculous when you think about it but it's what happened to the Catalonians. While I don't like to advocate the loss of territorial integrity for any state, they probably are better off as a separate country like Scotland.

It's kind of scary to have any sort of fracturing in the face of an apparent global rise in nationalism, especially when it's portrayed as ethnic separatism but I think it's more along sect lines than anything. Especially in Scotland who have had to put up with a decade of brutal austerity coming down from Westminster. I think that the reason these countries want their freedom is to paradoxically be a part of something bigger (the EU) but they want to do it their way, or, in the case of Scotland, at all. That's quite all right with me. To belong to something bigger that might make the world better while retaining what makes us all great and special, that's something that I think every human has in common.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:54 PM on December 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


The fact that comments in this thread are treating an open borders proposal as equivalent to being no border at all reflects the degree to which the discourse has already been poisoned by the Stephen Millers of the world.

Open borders and no borders are nowhere near the same thing.
posted by tclark at 6:01 PM on December 27, 2019 [14 favorites]


borders are a weapon that capital uses against humans. abolishing borders is a necessary (but not sufficient) condition for building a decent world.

Amen to this! I do not remember ever agreeing to be the citizen of my fucking nation state. Nationalism is a 19th century pile of racist bullshit that is stopping humanity from realizing its true potential on a global scale for justice and good.

This is an era when MORE nation states are aborning, as a reflection of democratic will. Yugoslavia splitting into multiple countries, Czech Republic and Slovakia divorcing, separatist movements trying hard in Scotland, Wales, Catalonia, etc. That means many people are longing for more borders, with their own 'local' control.

In a way, that seems to me an OK intermediate step. Note that every place you mention there wants into the EU or is already in it. Lots of little and less powerful nation states, as part of supranational organisations, is a better deal for people. In this sense more borders, with less powerful entities, and more borders on lower level political entities, can have a similar effect to no borders. Just don't let these entities have much control on the movement of people.
posted by Meatbomb at 6:02 PM on December 27, 2019 [10 favorites]


I live in an area with a high number of migrant workers who traditionally wintered in Mexico, coming back North for the asparagus season, staying until the apples all got picked. It worked well for the farmers who hired these workers. It worked out for the workers. They could winter in Mexico, where their earnings went further. While we did not have an absolutely open open border, the fluidity was helpful. With people stuck here, it is harder on their left behind families if there is any sort of family crisis. They can’t risk going home to help and usually can’t bring their family members here either. A lot of these people now live in fear of ICE. Crops have in some cases rotted in the fields. Not just here, but in other places dependent on migrant labor. So tight borders are financially damaging, socially damaging and when walls go up, ecologically damaging.
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 10:25 PM on December 27, 2019 [6 favorites]


Farmers never wanted open open borders. They wanted to be able to pay rock bottom wages to an underclass. Democrats are all for programs that keep prices high but Republicans make picking the crops cheap. For worker programs to be legitimized would bring immigrants under labor standard regime which would cost them a metric fuckton of money. The problem is when they partnered with the racists they expected the blind eye status quo to continue and an ICE that would politely ignore the other hundred foreign workers when they came to pick up the troublemakers. Instead the lunatics are clamping down and the farmers have shot themselves in the foot.
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 11:33 PM on December 27, 2019 [5 favorites]


Perhaps only tangentially related but the discussions around Libertarianism remind me of a thread from a few years back when I was new to Metafilter, wherein one user twitted another user saying "I have a poor understanding of the Social Contract and want to keep more of my stuff." Everyone else: "But: history, morality, ethics, good judgement etc. to which the Libertarian responds "But, my stuff!"

My deep and abiding appreciation for metafilter was cemented that day.
posted by hearthpig at 11:38 PM on December 27, 2019 [2 favorites]


A concise definition of libertarianism: an elaborate defence of avarice. Rarely more true than this post.
posted by tinlids at 11:39 PM on December 27, 2019 [4 favorites]


I read this book recently! (But I have not read the fucking article(s).)

I found myself agreeing with his conclusions, but skeptical of many of his arguments and perspectives. Still, it was refreshing to hear someone clearly and strongly argue for open borders! And I liked his phrase “friends of immigration.” It seems like a helpful rhetorical piece for coalition building and I can imagine others — friends of democracy, friends of civil liberties.

I also liked the way he combined strong advocacy with mental flexibility, which seemed both like a good communication strategy and also like an earnest approach (like I feel like he really believes what he’s saying). For example, he describes a bunch of “keyhole solutions” for the concerns of anti-immigration people and he’s like, I think these would be worse than just having open borders but also better than the current system.

He also describes various philosophies of ethics and why, from their own perspective, they should support open borders. But here’s where the biggest blind spot of the book appears—the total lack of awareness of ecology. Which seems like a huge dynamic in economics as a discipline, what with the faith in endless growth in a finite world. When he talks about open borders more than doubling global GDP, my ecosocialist self is like: umm, is that possible? Is that desirable?

To be super clear, I’m not saying ecological concerns stand against open borders. I am saying there’s powerful ecological (and anticapitalist) arguments for open borders. Like that we’re all in the same biosphere and all deeply impacted by everyone’s collective actions, so it’s misleading and dangerous to divide the world into exclusive spheres. But he leaves out those arguments because of his own ideological commitments.
posted by overglow at 6:24 AM on December 28, 2019 [5 favorites]


Which seems like a huge dynamic in economics as a discipline, what with the faith in endless growth in a finite world.

Wut. there's a whole subfield devoted to this. They even gave out a Nobel for this work a couple years ago.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 8:32 AM on December 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


In this sense more borders, with less powerful entities, and more borders on lower level political entities, can have a similar effect to no borders.

or as I heard it once many years ago -- we need fewer borders, more regions. The former require cops and armies and whatnot to function. The latter simply are.

And yes, I think many cities qualify as their own unique regions.
posted by philip-random at 8:50 AM on December 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


I mean if we're going got talk about divisions of regions and ecology, I wonder how Caplan feels about Bioregionalism.
posted by symbioid at 11:19 AM on December 28, 2019 [4 favorites]


or as I heard it once many years ago -- we need fewer borders, more regions. The former require cops and armies and whatnot to function. The latter simply are.

I'm genuinely curious. I'm guessing there would be a common currency. In these sorts of scenarios is there still a supraregional entity collecting taxes and redistributing to ensure equity throughout said regions?
posted by Your Childhood Pet Rock at 5:02 PM on December 28, 2019 [1 favorite]


> The fact that comments in this thread are treating an open borders proposal as equivalent to being no border at all reflects the degree to which the discourse has already been poisoned by the Stephen Millers of the world.

Open borders and no borders are nowhere near the same thing.


yes yes that is all well and good but also fuck a border smash the state.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 5:14 PM on December 28, 2019 [3 favorites]


In these sorts of scenarios is there still a supraregional entity collecting taxes and redistributing to ensure equity throughout said regions?

this is hardly my area of expertise but I imagine taxation is always going to be a complicating point when it comes to imagining how we might rework political boundaries. Always.
posted by philip-random at 5:29 PM on December 28, 2019 [2 favorites]


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