Opposite Day: Immigration

It may seem a bit of a strange way to begin here at Catallarchy, but in the spirit of the growing Opposite Day fad, I'm going to turn my first post over to my curmudgeonly twin brother (dizygotic, of course), Matthias. He and I have an ongoing argument about immigration:

If there's one thing that sticks in my craw, it's open-borders libertarian types. Now, don't get me wrong: I have no time for the kind of economic ignoramus who rejects open borders on specious "economic" grounds. I know as well as you do that in a frictionless economic world open borders would be Kaldor-Hicks efficient, and of course the welfare of foreigners matters as much as anybody's.

But you know as well as I do that we don't live in a frictionless economic world, populated by interchangeable atom-like actors. Individualism is all well and good, but individuals exist within a social context, and the kind of flippant disregard for social capital exhibited by the open-borders people is enough to get Edmund Burke spinning in his grave.

A good Hayekian ought to appreciate that the extended order of the liberal society is comparable to an ecosystem in its complexity and fragility. Nevermind, for the moment, contraversial arguments about the innateness of intelligence or propensity toward aggression. When you're importing people from other parts of the world, you're not just importing labour, you're importing a whole host of memes that have taken up residence in those people's minds like so many microbial hitchhikers. Like germs and other foreign substances, some of them are benign or even beneficial, and others potentially quite harmful. Completely open borders makes about as much sense as switching off your immune system.

A robust liberal society can generally fight off the inimical influences up to a point (assuming it hasn't been crippled, as it has in parts of Europe), but recall Paracelsus: what makes the poison isn't the substance, it's the dose. The ideal liberal society should take in as many immigrants as it can without endangering its own health, but that theoretical maximum is not unlimited. We've already seen what kind of friction can ensue with even a small portion of the population holding illiberal ideas in Europe; can you imagine what a massive influx of Muslim Arabs and Maghrebines would do to there, or even Hispanics to the United States? I don't particularly want to find out. Slow and steady, please, not full steam ahead.

As you might guess, Matthias is significantly more conservative than I am; he also thinks invading Iraq was a horribly naive idea. Like Tyrone, he's a very bad man...

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Posting an obviously-flawed

Posting an obviously-flawed strawman doesn't count; the point of the meme was to develop a legitimate devil's advocate position. Since I pretty much agree with you on this issue, my quickly drawn up Opposite Day post might go like this:

A lot of libertarians like to conveniently forget that "libertarian social philosophy" is a total package deal, and that having a little bit of libertarian policy, surrounded by a sea of statist policy, can potentially cause more problems than having no libertarian policy at all.

Example in point: Immigration.

In the libertarian whole-picture fantasy, there's absolutely no scalability problem with unlimited immigration, because the privileges and freedoms that come with citizenship do not cost anything; no scarce resources must be given up to ensure a new immigrant can speak or associate freely, for instance.

Unfortunately, the United States is not such a Randian utopia, but instead a mess of entitlement programs. Dismantling the controls on immigration, without first eliminating these policies, will be disastrous as they attempt to accommodate a virtually infinite stream of new citizens. Even worse, these policies attract more people, making the problem even worse.

I believe in the libertarian dream of individual rights and autonomy, but this stuff _must_ be done in the proper order, and latching onto an external political movement ("open the border!") just because it aligns with an _aspect_ of this dream is potentially disastrous.

Posting an obviously-flawed

Posting an obviously-flawed strawman doesn’t count; the point of the meme was to develop a legitimate devil’s advocate position.

I don't see Mattias's position as an obviously-flawed strawman. While your own opposite day comment argues about policies, his argument is about human capital. Unless you think institutions are not important, it's just as valid as the argument about welfare-state policies.

I think David Friedman's

I think David Friedman's solution to that objection is rather simple: Disallow people from becoming eligible for welfare for a certain amount of time. Of course I doubt the politicians will go for that solution either, given the nature of democracy...

It is more than that. The

It is more than that. The reason jobs are so easy for immigrants to get in this country is partially a result of those welfare institutions.

For a local example, a town here in North Carolina had been suffering (supposedly) from poverty for awhile. So, the state incentivized a door manufacturer to move in. Oddly enough, the owners could not get enough workers, although over half the town population listed itself as unemployed (and seeking employment). By some twist of fate, the town residents had become so used to government checks that they refused to give them up even for a mere doubling of living standards. Ultimately, the factory got workers, nearly every one was a recent illegal immigrant from Mexico brought in specifically for these jobs.

When the factory opened, a few local Mexican's that had previously been working in agriculture were attracted to the high pay. When it became obvious there were not enough hires, the owner asked these Mexican workers if they could get more. A month later, they just walked in, mostly extended family members which gave up work in Mexico, specifically on his request.

If it wasn't for the social safety net, these mostly white Americans would have had to take the factory jobs, pre-empting the need to actively import even more Mexicans.

Or, more likely, these impoverished people would have moved from this town to better prospects long ago, pre-empting the need for the state government to bribe a company to open in a location with insufficient labor prospects.

Jonathan is correct; because

Jonathan is correct; because the specifics of immigration and welfare states vary from place to place, I didn't focus on that. (In the US, for instance, I'm pretty sure that immigration tends to be a net accounting gain for the welfare state -- most Mexican immigrants come to work and then move back home after several years, so they pay into Social Security and Medicare without taking out.) Matthias' argument is an "in principle" one about social capital which is orthogonal to any arguments over entitlements.

I suppose it's not technically a "true" opposite day post because it's not an argument for a complete immigration clampdown, but that would have been straining credulity. But it's certainly no strawman because I've seen people make an argument along those lines.

Actually, I think in a

Actually, I think in a democracy one's self interest is best served by lobbying to only allow the immigration of like-minded individuals. I would most certainly be harmed by unlimited immigration because people are allowed to use force against me in the form of voting, and I am forcibly prevented from defending myself (i.e. I can't stand outside the polling place with a gun and shoot all the socialists, much as I'd like to).

Therefore, I am actually against any immigration from any area where the people tend to vote for entitlement programs. From areas where the immigrants tend to be libertarian businesspeople, I'm all for it. Get rid of the violence called voting, and we can start talking unlimited immigration.

Matt, The opposite of


The opposite of totally open immigration is not a total clampdown. There are many positions and they share many "opposites" by your definition. I disagree with you and I don't want a total clampdown. I'm not for totally open immigration but I don't consider that position to be the "opposite" of my position. It simply doesn't work that way.

The opposite of my position would be to allow in criminals and terrorists, those seeking to impose Sharia law, those seeking to overthrow our government and set up a communist dictatorship, and those seeking to live off welfare. The opposite position would also seek to keep out the people who want to come here to work hard, be self responsible, and not infringe on the rights of others. I know of no one taking such a position and I would hardly characterize the position as being for "open borders".

In fact, I find this whole idea of opposites to be flawed. What is the opposite of a Republican? Is it a Liberal, a Democrat, Communist, a Democratic Socialist, or a Nazi. Democrats claim Nazis as their opposites and so do Republicans.

I can make no sense of it.

I think it would be better to call it straw man day, since that is what it is really about, painting other peoples positions for them. People you disagree with.

BTW, my opposites name is

BTW, my opposites name is Mohammed and he's a very bad man also.

Brian, I agree that


I agree that "opposite day" is a bit of a misnomer, but "straw man day" is equally wrong because NONE OF THE O.D. POSTS HAVE BEEN STRAW MEN. I picked this argument specifically because it's the only in-principle argument against open immigration that I find compelling.

I think it ends up amounting

I think it ends up amounting to straw man day. I think you did a pretty good job actually, except when you threw in Magrebines and Hispanics. Your argument was turning on the social capital of the individuals being imported but then you flipped to racial categories. You conflated two different arguments into one.

If Mexicans had a long history of living under and supporting a limited republic then the first part of your argument wouldn't apply. So it isn't the fact that they are racially Hispanic that matters. Why you picked the categories of Arabs and Magrebines is beyond me. These are again racial type categories and not in the spirit of Hayeks theories. He never said that any of these forces were race based.

That's how you ended up in straw man land. The opposite of your position is not racism.

I think the biggest clue to the fact that it is straw man day is that two of you have identified your alter egos as evil men. Tyrone, and Mattias, are called "bad". Being against open borders doesn't make you "bad", nor does being pro minimum wage. One can make errors without being evil.

BTW, my opposite day position on open borders would include the justification that "We would be closing the barn door after the horses are out. That is, this country is already full of people who don't have the right cultural traditions to support a limited government democracy. All is already lost so why bother." Is that a position you take or do you think that is a straw man take on your beliefs? What I think is a valid criticism of my position isn't neccesarily the position of my real opponents. A straw man position doesn't neccesarily have to be weaker, just different enough that it is not the actual argument the other guy is making.

I did use racial categories,

I did use racial categories, but only for lack of a better identifier because these map statistically onto cultural differences as well. The post explicitly set aside contraversial questions involving race.

And here's irony: show me where I characterized this point of view as "evil." Oh right, you can't, because that's a straw man. If you saw Alex Tabarrok's post about having lunch with Tyrone, you'd know that the "bad man" comment was more about argumentative deviousness than any sort of serious moral judgement on the content of the argument. And hello, I explicitly said in my previous comment that I find the argument compelling even if I respectfully disagree.

If you saw Alex Tabarrok's

If you saw Alex Tabarrok's post about having lunch with Tyrone, you'd know that the "bad man" comment was more about argumentative deviousness than any sort of serious moral judgment on the content of the argument.

I know that Alex was being playful in writing that, but he still indicated that Tyrone is devious and untrustworthy. He then colored those attributes by calling him a "bad, bad, man". He also said that Tyrone's arguments consist of "fallacies, sophistries, and half-truths". I assumed that Alex saying, "worst of all, brilliant" was actually a backhanded complement to himself and not really indicating that Tyrone’s other moral shortcomings were somehow lessened.

Not working today so ...

I did use racial categories, but only for lack of a better identifier because these map statistically onto cultural differences as well.

Ok, I can accept that, only you can know your intent. The problem I see here is that you didn't communicate it well and that puts an additional burden on your opponent.

Let me make a suggestion. In the future if you want to clearly make this point then use a "white" culture instead of several brown skinned ones for you examples. If you had used Swedes or Norwegians the issue would not come up. I understand why your mind didn't gravitate to them but hordes of Swedes would be just as detrimental to a limited republic, as hordes of Mexicans. The only problem with using Swedes is the term "hordes of Swedes" really doesn't work. They don't have the kind of population that could swamp our system. So maybe hordes of European socialist should be used as the example.

I think the above advice is also something Hans-Herman Hoppe should take seriously. He likes to use examples of exclusion based on sexual orientation and race. This does not tend to come across as tolerant of either homosexuals or other races. Perhaps he means to do this. I know your "alter-ego" doesn't because you have explicitly stated otherwise.

The post explicitly set aside controversial questions involving race.

Sorry, I reread the entire article and all the comments with that in mind and I must have missed it the second time around also. Not mentioning something doesn't mean you "explicitly" set it aside. Did you mean "implicitly"?

And here's irony: show me where I characterized this point of view as evil. Oh right, you can't, because that's a straw man.

"Like Tyrone, he's a very bad man"

How am I suppose to take this? Aren't "very bad" men evil? Go to the American Heritage dictionary and under bad 2. Evil; sinful.

Sorry, but I a very sensitive to being branded a racist with regard to my position on immigration. There are lots of open borders advocates who immediately yank out the race card. Saying you are for open borders then positing an alter ego who is "very bad" immediately brings to mind the racism issue. Why else would being against completely open borders be "very bad".

I did not assume you were saying your alter ego was very bad because he took opposing views on every belief you had. If you will allow me a metaphor, I wasn't assuming a polychromatic opposite. That just wouldn't make sense in the context of ethics or politics. I say this because I am of the belief that the people I am disagreeing with are for the most part good people. We are in agreement on the important things like "murder is unacceptable". In a universe of polychromatic opposites we would still disagree on the minor issues but would all agree, "murder is acceptable". This renders the whole exercise silly because the polychromatic opposite should use this shared belief to support his positions on other issues. For instance, Matthias should argue, "We all believe that murder is acceptable. Therefore what's wrong with individuals shooting anyone they like, which includes people crossing borders? If you don't like them, kill them, go ahead!"

Thus I was assuming your opposite was a monochromatic opposite. Someone who still agrees with you that murder is wrong, and only disagrees with you on the single issue of having completely open borders. To then call him "bad" leaves open only one possibility, that he is bad because of position on immigration.

Does this make sense to you?
Personally if I was told that someone was "devious and untrustworthy", someone who deals with "fallacies, sophistries, and half-truths" and then told that he was a bad man, I would think he was up to no good. These terms imply a hidden agenda, one that is self-dealing. This is the old issue of coloring by the choice of adjective, as an example, "A New Englander is shrewd, but a Jew is devious." He could have used the word "shrewd” which has a positive connotation but he chose "devious" which has a negative one. I can't even think of a non-evil version of the adjective "untrustworthy".

Since the only difference between Alex and his alter ego Tyrone is his intellectual positions I can only see these bad attributes as deriving from Tyrone’s intellectual positions.

The long and the short of it is that Alex is in effect saying that the positions he is going to be espousing via Tyrone are full of "fallacies, half-truths, and sophistries" and that people who hold them do so because of they are "devious and untrustworthy", and frankly bad, bad men.

And hello, I explicitly said in my previous comment that I find the argument compelling even if I respectfully disagree.

I got that already. I said that you did a pretty good job except for the part at the end where you picked racial categories. I am not claiming this was your devious intent or that you are untrustworthy. I actually think that both Alex and you were being earnest about this. When I said that, “I think it ends up amounting to straw man” I meant it in as unintentional. What you guys are attempting is a very difficult exercise because you have to come across impartial. Your picking racial category was a minor flaw in this exercise, but identifying your alter egos as “bad” ruins the exercise. It’s tantamount to claiming that your real opponents are bad people.

I can think of several issues where I hold a position but can make very persuasive counter-arguments on the other side. I am pro-death penalty, yet I am very sympathetic to the anti-death penalty crowd, to the point where it doesn’t matter to me if we actually have a death penalty or not. I can think of compelling opposing arguments that involve no "fallacies, sophistries, and half-truths" nor require the other party to be devious or untrustworthy, intellectually or otherwise.

Sometimes the disagreement on a single issue boils down to a complex difference in worldview that makes one person more heavily weigh a factor than another person. I for instance in the past put more weight on making sure a murderer does not repeat his offense, and less weight on the issue of punishing an innocent person. I thought this mistake was one that I could live with even if it was made against myself. I now put more weight on this issue and may actually flip my position, even though I have heard no new arguments on the issue. Perhaps because I have more empirical evidence that judicial mistakes are more commonplace than my past experience had indicated. I can only hold to this position however if there is a certitude that the criminal can be restrained. As strange as it might seem a situation in which there is less certitude of guilty might have and even more disproportion certitude of incarceration, and therefore might lead me to be pro-death penalty in a reverse proportion to the civility of the society. Thus in a more ordered society with assured incarceration I might be anti-death penalty whereas in a disorder society with rough justice and insecure jails I might be for the death penalty.

What flipped me from an open-borders position to a open-borders with qualifications position was the realization that Islam is an intolerant religio-political system that is incompatible with the system we have here. There was no new argumentative revelation that all of the sudden switched me over. That was not the case when I switched over from the open-borders with qualifications position I had assumed as a youth to the completely open borders position I took in my twenties and thirties. That was precipitated by both new arguments and new perceptions. The new arguments were libertarian in nature, and the new perceptions were that the general makeup of people wishing to immigrate here was more in line with the countries values than the people who already lived here.

I have since come across several counter examples, which include Greeks, British, and Germans who all immigrated here but hate the U.S. and it’s values. That along with several Muslims who although the say that the US is a great place based on Islamic values, have no problem with the existence of apostasy and heresy laws in their own countries. They like the fact that the US will let them in but aren’t really with the program. I don’t think such people are suitable for the continuance of a free country, and will eventually lead to religious and social violence. I see that empirically happening in Europe.

Brian: Tyrone is Tyler

Tyrone is Tyler Cowen's alter ego, not Alex Tabarrok's.

Also, hordes of Europeans socialists immigrating to the US isn't a very realistic scenario. Hordes of European capitalists, maybe, but if you like socialism, why leave a first-world socialist state for a first-world capitalist one?

Brandon, Also, hordes of


Also, hordes of Europeans socialists immigrating to the US isn’t a very realistic scenario. Hordes of European capitalists, maybe, but if you like socialism, why leave a first-world socialist state for a first-world capitalist one?

I think you are making the assumption that socialism would deliver. One can like socialism in theory but not like the society that results. All the while still believing that socialism would make things work out the way you desire. These things take time to ferment. The worse things get in Europe the more attractive the capitalist results look. They don't have to give up their prized socialism to move to a country where they don't have to wait on lines for medical.

A perfect example of this is the hordes of Muslims that are moving into Europe. They say they like Islam yet they are moving away from Islamic countries into non-Islamic ones. When they arrive the first thing they want to do is set up Sharia.

Macker, 1. I used Hispanics


1. I used Hispanics and Arabs and Maghrebines because these are currently the largest sources of immigration to the US and EU, respectively. At different periods of history or under different circumstances I may well have used other group identifiers like Irish or Chinese or something.

2. When I said "explicitly", I was referring to this sentence: "Nevermind, for the moment, contraversial arguments about the innateness of intelligence or propensity toward aggression." Maybe that wasn't explicit enough, but it meant that I was assuming an "operational blank slate" psychological model for the purposes of argument, i.e. no argumentum ad geneticum, and a fortiori no arguments involving race.

3. You seem to be having a difficulty with basic propositional logic. When I say "A is a bad man," you cannot logically infer "Position X held by person A is an evil position." This is just reverse ad hominem and just as unwarranted.

This is how I see it: The

This is how I see it: The free movement of people across borders is a net good for the prospects of liberty. Thus, the more said people move across the various arbitrary borders, the better. Yes, its true, we do not live in a randian paradise and American society as it stands is not exactly Kaldor-Hicks efficient. However, despite these two factors, The long term result of open borders will be a part of a gradual evolution to a more economically free, more mobile world. Besides, I don't think that measures enacted to stop or stem the problem will matter much anyhow in the long run, mainly because they are static and arbitrary interventions in the tremendous dynamic of social and economic evolution in society. Who is going to decide what numbers will be allowed in, when, how, from where, what will their basis be? How will they cope with the changing characteristics of that basis. To seal borders, or even to impose quotas and other restrictions is an excercise in centrally planned calculation.....That wonderful idea that always works so well in the allocation of resources. Furthermore, one should not ignore the non quantitaive benefits of immigration across borders! The greatest resource, as Julian Simon so wonderfully explained, is people, whether they are born or migrating. That intangible well of human creativeness and productivity that potentially exists in every immigrant is worth more then many of you seem to think. And I solidly believe that it completely outweighs any statistical and numerative calculations that show the ineffiency of immigrant inflow into our imperfect society.