October 7, 2013

Tyler Cowen denounces Open Borders

And no I do not favor open borders even though I do favor a big increase in immigration into the United States, both high- and low-skilled.  The simplest argument against open borders is the political one.  Try to apply the idea to Cyprus, Taiwan, Israel, Switzerland, and Iceland and see how far you get.  Big countries will manage the flow better than the small ones but suddenly the burden of proof is shifted to a new question: can we find any countries big enough (or undesirable enough) where truly open immigration might actually work? 
In my view the open borders advocates are doing the pro-immigration cause a disservice.  The notion of fully open borders scares people, it should scare people, and it rubs against their risk-averse tendencies the wrong way.  I am glad the United States had open borders when it did, but today there is too much global mobility and the institutions and infrastructure and social welfare policies of the United States are, unlike in 1910, already too geared toward higher per capita incomes than what truly free immigration would bring.  
Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.  (The clever will note that this problem is smaller if all wealthy countries move to free immigration at the same time, but of course that is unlikely.)

19 comments:

Ed said...

I thought this was more of the same, but it looks like Cowen has shifted his position slightly.

"Open Borders" is one instance of a crazy, fringe idea that for some reason educated people now are required to believe in without question. If you have an organized government that controls a geographic area, it has to control who enters that area (they should also keep track of who leaves!). Otherwise its not sovereign. Immigration controls are as basic to sovereignty as the ability to provide your own securitya nd the ability to tax.

European countries got rid of their border controls, with other European countries, because this was seen as an important part of the countries giving up sovereignty in favor of a common European state. Members of the EU who opposed this (the common European state), such as the United Kingdom, DID NOT get rid of their border controls with other European countries (and a big deal was made of this at the time). And the idea was not to let in anyone from outside Europe who wanted to settle in Europe, as countries on the fringes of Europe who have not been maintaining sufficient border controls have been finding out.

However, the idea that if every single country in the world greatly reduced its border controls, the effect would not be that bad, does have some merit. This was the system that prevaled before 1914 and it worked OK. Instead of flocking to the one country with a high tolerance/ encouragement of (illegal) immigration, they went to the places that economically and culturally could absorb alot of immigrants. It was sort of a freemarket solution to the problem. There was a difference in that it was alot more expensive to move from place to place than now, but this may change.

If you have some countries with weak immigration controls and some countries keeping severyone out, the ones with weak immigration controls would get innundated with immigrations, beyond the capacity of their economies and cultures to absorb them, and the ones with the stronger controls would do relatively well. Its sort of like unilateral disarmament.

Mike said...

He's said much the same over the years in other posts. He goes straight to the politics of it and does recognize the damage to the goose laying egg elsewhere.

He is somewhat different than other "popular" George Mason types.

Auntie Analogue said...


Who among us Sailermates can have guessed that Cowen wrote, about something near & dear to pro-massive immigration Diversicrats' hearts: "Tyler Cowen's Ethnic Dining Guide."

What. Are. The. Odds?!

Anonymous said...

Depends a great deal on what exactly you mean by "open borders". An open border between Germany and Denmark could be beneficial to both countries. Likewise an open border between Canada and the US might work. That doesn't mean, of course, open borders everywhere.

Anonymous said...

And no I do not favor open borders even though I do favor a big increase in immigration into the United States, both high- and low-skilled.

This statement is as worthless as some GOPer telling you he opposes ILLEGAL immigration, but supports LEGAL immigration. The bottom line is that both Cowen and the average GOPer support MASS immigration. And MASS immigration is effectively open borders whether one chooses to call it this or not.

Cowen writes that he wants a big increase in immigration, as if our current level is not enough. During the 1950s, we brought in around 180K immigrants per year. Today we are bringing in well over a million, and we've been doing this for years.

What the heck is he thinking writing that we need a big increase from our current level? Our current level has already shifted this country's path of development, and resulted in us having a de facto second language and second, permanent underclass. To institute a "big increase" of current immigration levels is effectively advocating support for open borders.

Harry Baldwin said...

Plunking 500 million or a billion poor individuals in the United States most likely would destroy the goose laying the golden eggs.

He thinks it would take at least 500 million? I think 50-100 million would do it.

SFG said...

"Depends a great deal on what exactly you mean by "open borders". An open border between Germany and Denmark could be beneficial to both countries. Likewise an open border between Canada and the US might work. That doesn't mean, of course, open borders everywhere."

I even disagree with that. Just because the members of each pair are, shall we say, 'civilized' doesn't mean the smaller country would want its culture extinguished.

Anonymous said...

Yes, as Harry Baldwin said above, it's all in the 500 million number. Prof Cowen is probably closer to open borders than 90 percent of Democrats.

Anonymous said...

Why does it sound as if he is only grudgingly accepting that the notion is a stupid one? Why is it so hard for academics to understand and accept basic biology? We can only tolerate living in close proximity to those who are not so different from us that they threaten our culture which is based on our values, all of which are rooted in our ancestral heritage, which includes traits that result from our genetics?

Bluegrass said...

"He thinks it would take at least 500 million? I think 50-100 million would do it."

Heck there's a good argument to be made that bringing in only 3 million jewish immigrants or so pushed this country past the point of no return.

"who shall immigrate?" Is even more important than the "how much?"

even if I was an overpopulated country id still take 1 million japs or danes over 50000 aboriginals.

I know, such hateful calculations from a hater like myself.

Anonymous said...

Just because the members of each pair are, shall we say, 'civilized' doesn't mean the smaller country would want its culture extinguished.

England and Scotland have had open borders - no border in fact - for 100s of years. Scotland, far smaller than England, retains cultural and ethnic differences to this day.

jody said...

"Likewise an open border between Canada and the US might work."

as soon as the mexicans start showing in canada, the canadians will cancel that arrangement.

'Wow, even more free stuff than in the US? I'm heading to Canada!"

i doubt the currenty pompous, currently sanctimonious canadian multiculturalists would put up with even 2 or 3 million mexicans before they withdrew from the 'Amerinadian Free Movement Zone Treaty'.

a free movement zone is only as strong as it's weakest border, as the EU has found out. having an open border with the US will just turn canada into mexico.

not to mention, imagine what a flood of africans from buffalo, cleveland, detroit, chicago, milwaukee, and new york city would do to canadian cities.

Anonymous said...

Just how much continual bashing on the head witha blunt instrument, (ie isteve), did it take for Cowen to hint toward common-sense?

Anonymous said...

Ed,
It's a myth that immigration control did not exist prior to 1914. Firstly, prior to the invention of the steam-ship in the 1850s, there was only very limited mass movement of people and control was simply not needed. Secondly, amongst European nations, individuals were reluctant to move, for a variety of reasons. Mass (non-Irish) European immigration to Britain only picked up around 1900. It was almost entirely eastern European Jewish. Very strict immigration control, the Aliens Act of 1912, which required foreigners to report to police stations weekly and carry specific 'alien cards' with them at all times, soon followed. The intention was to halt east European Jewish immigration. But all continental Europeans were caught in the net, and I believe all 'non-Empire' foreigners.

Anonymous said...

From 1987-2012 the United States added 70 million people to our population - a 28% increase in just 25 years, about 70% the direct or indirect result of immigration. We have open borders.

Further, when a country gets to a point where it can't secure its borders because a large naturalized immigrant minority population will not let them, you also have open borders.

It should scare the shit out of anyone, Left, Right, or Center, that we can't close our borders because the Hispanics and Asians will take it out on politicians at the polls. This is the politics of conquest, and the invaders understand what they're doing, but we don't.


England and Scotland have had open borders - no border in fact - for 100s of years. Scotland, far smaller than England, retains cultural and ethnic differences to this day.

Because Scotland does not draw in English or foreigners the way England draws in Scots and foreigners, thus Scotland has remained culturally and ethnically Scottish.

Anonymous said...

"England and Scotland have had open borders - no border in fact - for 100s of years. Scotland, far smaller than England, retains cultural and ethnic differences to this day."

And anyone displaying an English flag in Scotland is likely to get their car vandalised or their face punched.

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/north_east/7826264.stm

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/5101184.stm

http://www.edinburghnews.scotsman.com/news/racist-taunts-for-barber-over-england-flag-1-3047714

Used to take the kids to Scotland twice a year. Lots of English "white settlers" in the Highlands and Islands. Heard some interesting tales from them.

The murder rate in Scotland per head is twice that in England and Wales - which is even more striking when you think that a quarter of E&W murders are by minorities, and Scotland has few of those.

Anonymous said...

"Scotland, far smaller than England, retains cultural and ethnic differences to this day."

58,000 Gaelic speakers in Scotland.
55,000 Polish speakers in Scotland.

http://www.theguardian.com/uk-news/2013/sep/26/scotland-diverse-non-white-2011-census?commentpage=1

BB753 said...

Alright, so drawing the line at 500 millions is sanity? I gather Mr Cowen has yet to taste a first-hand experience of vibrancy.
If you let in just 100 million inmigrants legal or otherwise, as you have in the last generation, you end up with 500 millions anyway 50 years down the line, which is madness, even for a big country like the USA.

Anonymous said...

If the UK pulled out of EU free movement zone, I think a UK-Can-Aus free movement and free trade zone could and would work.

But this is a unique case where all three are developed and have strong cultural and historical ties to the home country.