The Ethics of Immigration Symposium: Movement within and between states

by Brian on May 28, 2014

Joseph Carens has written a brilliant and stimulating book. I can’t remember the last time I filled a book with so many marginal jottings, either because he had made a striking point that I wanted a reminder of, or because what he said was so thought-provoking, or, often, both.

I agree with the vast majority of Professor Carens’s conclusions. It would make a boring symposium contribution to just list points of agreement, so I’m going to spend a bit of time here on a few points where I don’t agree. Now I’m sure you’ve heard a philosopher give an introduction like that once or twice before, and it can sound rather trite. So I want to start with a couple more positive things.

The fact that the book is so rich, that there are things worth talking about on basically every page, means that it would be a joy to teach. I don’t think there are many philosophy departments around that currently have on the curriculum a course on the ethics of immigration. Here’s some free advice to my fellow philosophers: Add such a course, and have Professor Carens’s book be a central text in it. You’ll get a topic, and a text, that are interesting to people who normally wouldn’t take philosophy classes. You’ll get more topics for fruitful discussion than you can easily handle. And, especially in a university with any kind of diversity, you’ll get the chance for you, and the students, to learn from how the lived experiences of the different members of the class interact with the theoretical issues at hand. I know many universities have been adding, with great success, courses on the ethics of food. A course on the ethics of immigration could have a similar kind of success.

Carens’s book encourages us, among other things, to take two new perspectives on issues about immigration. One is that of the migrants themselves, who have played a surprisingly small role in much academic discussion. A lot of the focus has been on the states constructing the borders, and the legitimacy of their doing so. Carens’s thought experiments often cast the reader as the central protagonist, in many cases the would-be migrant. (E.g., “Imagine you want to move from New York to Los Angeles.”) I think the use of second person examples in philosophy is excessive, and often dangerous. But I think it works here, because part of the point is to see things through the would-be migrant’s eyes. Someone who wants to move, say, across Lake Erie from Ontario to Pennsylvania faces a system of legal impediments, backstopped by the coercive force of the greatest power the world has seen. And that system is not obliged, either legally or according to folk morality, to provide much justification for directing that force at them, should it decide that the impediments will become insurmountable. Indeed,the fact that the person has not provided a positive reason to move that the system finds acceptable is taken to be a sufficient reason to use force against you. This is not what we usually find acceptable in a non-oppressive regime. The state has to justify why it should use force against me; I don’t have to justify why it shouldn’t use force against me. Maybe when I’m an immigrant all of that is right and good. But even so, I think it is right for us to be occasionally shocked by it, and be reminded that it is a state of affairs that stands in need of a very strong justification.

The second change of perspective involves thinking simultaneously about movement within states and between states. Folk morality distinguishes sharply between the two. Compare how you would react if you found out the following facts about three states, A, B and C, that you had previously never heard of.

  • A has restrictions on travelling between its two largest cities. To travel between the two requires an internal transit visa.
  • B and C sharply restrict movement between each other. To move between one and the other requires official approval well in advance from the country one is headed to. This approval is both costly to obtain, and often denied for what seem like trivial administrative reasons.

I think that most people, especially if the two cases are not presented side-by-side, would think that the facts provide more evidence that A is repressive than that B or C are. Internal movement visas are things that we associate with repressive regimes. But the facts about B and C wouldn’t excite anything like the same reaction. Indeed, they are consistent with B and C satisfying most of the standards that folk morality requires for being a free country.

I haven’t done a careful study to check whether what I am saying about folk morality is true. (Here is a place where careful experimental philosophy may be useful!) But I suspect that it is; that most people living in liberal democracies find the idea of internal movement visas repulsive, but think it is perfectly acceptable to have the kind of sharp restrictions on moving into a country that we see in B and C. And it is worth thinking hard about what we can learn both from the fact that liberal democracies allow free internal movement and that we largely think it is a requirement of freedom that they do so. (Though how much we really think this will be an issue we’ll return to presently.)

The fact that there is free movement within liberal democracies undermines some of the more outlandish predictions of the opponents of open borders. Carens quotes Michael Walzer saying that we need closed borders to preserve “communities of character”. But Vermont has open borders (on three sides at least) and is (or at least contains) as good a community of character as one might aim for in designing policy. By the same token, reflection on currently existing polities without borders should tamper our enthusiasm for the benefits that open borders would bring. There aren’t any closed borders, in the sense Carens is interested in, between Trenton, NJ and Princeton, NJ. There are even trains that run between the two dozens of times a day. And yet the wealth of one doesn’t seem to have done much to benefit the residents of the other. This hasn’t happened by chance, and it is worth worrying that the mechanisms involved would be seen more in a world of open borders.

It is tempting to think of borders between states as much more important than borders within states because of the greater inequalities between rather than within states. Indeed, some of Carens’s qualifications to his conclusions seem to acknowledge this temptation. For instance, he writes: “Our deepest moral principles require a commitment to open borders (with modest qualifications) in a world where inequality between states is much reduced.” (288, emphasis added). But I’m not sure that is a relevant concern given the world we actually live in. Already, inequality within states is almost as significant as inequality between states.1 And if Piketty is right, the trend is that inequality within states is rising, perhaps substantially, while all the evidence suggests that inequality between states is falling.

And this brings us back to the worry that folk morality, distinguishing sharply as it does between inter- and intra-state migration, is incoherent. Something like this plays a key role in one of Carens’s arguments for open borders. I think he’s onto something, but the argument doesn’t prove as much as he takes it to. For a first pass at the argument, return to my story about A, B and C above. And assume now that A is a newly formed loose federation of two states, B and C, each of which retains substantial sovereignty. Does this change of status constitute a new form of repression, or not? Folk morality, taken literally, would seem to suggest the new state is more repressive than its predecessors, but this is hardly plausible. More generally, advocates of free movement within states, and strong borders around states, have tricky challenges in determining what, in the relevant sense, is a state.2

Here’s how Carens tries to leverage this tension in orthodox theory into an argument for open borders.

  1. “Freedom of movement within a state is widely recognised as a human right.” (238)
  2. There is a close analogy between freedom of movement within a state, and freedom of movement between states.
  3. So, freedom of movement between states should be recognised as a human right.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve got the best quote to represent Premise 1 in the intended argument. That’s because I’m not sure whether the analogy is meant to start with a claim about folk morality, or a claim about our current practice, or a claim about institutional commitment, or something else. This unclarity isn’t really a weakness of the argument, though, because it suggests there are a number of distinct arguments by analogy one could pursue in defence of one or other kind of open borders conclusion. And I think Premise 2, properly understood, is true.

My worry is that premise 1 is not true. I’m going to offer a defence of what Carens calls the view that free movement within a state is a ‘membership-specific’ right, rather than a human right. At least, according to folk morality, current practice, and the principles embodied in our existing institutions, it is a membership-specific right. That is, the key intuition is that members of a state should be free to move freely within it, up to resettling in different parts of the state, but that range of freedoms need not extend to non-members. When I say that is the intuition, I don’t mean I agree with it, since I’m an open borders believer. But I do fear it is the intuition most people in the debate have. I fear this because of though experiments like these two. (Both are fictional in their details, though Example Two is I think close to something Australia did recently.)

Example One

The US government, in an attempt to boost tourism to Hawai’i, drops the requirement of having an ESTA for people only coming to Hawai’i. So Shirou, wanting a holiday from his home outside Tokyo, gets on a plane with no more documentation than his passport, and flies to Honolulu. While he’s there, he meets someone who tells him some great things about San Francisco. He would like to go, but he needs ESTA authorisation to go. And he can’t apply for that in Hawai’i, nor can he afford to fly back to Tokyo, then on again to San Francisco. So he simply returns home at the end of his holiday.

Example Two

The Australian government is desperate to get more doctors into rural areas. So it sets up a class of visa for doctors who will work in a rural area for three years. Arya applies for such a visa, is accepted, and moves from Delhi to Broken Hill. While she is there, she is free to visit Melbourne for a weekend, but she isn’t free to move to Melbourne, since there is no practical way she can work in Broken Hill and live in Melbourne. And there is no prospect of her getting a visa that would let her live in Melbourne before the three years are up.

Now if premise 1 of Carens’s argument is right, each of these examples should strike us as grave injustices, either violations of Shirou and Arya’s fundamental human rights, or violations of a good international law. But I don’t think they strike us that way. In both cases they might be instances of bad public policy. Example one may even be a violation of the U.S. Constitution. But I don’t think they strike us as things that are, or should be, violations of human rights treaties.

And that’s a problem because it suggests that fundamentally, we are committed to free internal movement as a membership-specific right, not a general human right. Shirou isn’t a member of the United States, so he isn’t entitled to move freely around it. And Arya doesn’t become a member of Australia until her three years have passed, so she can be restricted in where in Australia she lives. And if that’s right, the argument by analogy doesn’t go through.

It might be objected that Arya, at least, is not really restricted in her movements. She can head to Melbourne for a decent cup of coffee any time she wants. But she can’t move there should she need good coffee every morning, not just on occasional weekends. If freedom of internal movement means the kind of freedom Arya enjoys in her first three years in Broken Hill, the analogy Carens uses doesn’t support open borders. It suggests, at most, that everyone in the world should be free to visit Melbourne on holiday, but the government is allowed to put tight restrictions on which non-Australians can live there. And that isn’t the conclusion open borders advocates should want.

So I don’t think the argument by analogy is dialectically effective. It isn’t one that should make closed borders advocates think that they are tacitly committed to open borders in virtue of their prior commitment to free movement internally.

If that’s right, why do I believe in open borders? I don’t have a well worked out theory here, but here’s the kind of approach I favour. (And I should note that my thinking here has been influenced by several of the other things Carens says.) I think there is a very small class of cases in which a state is entitled to use force against an individual. And in every one of those cases, the state is obliged to explain its use of force in a way that could at least make sense to the target of the force. I don’t think the goals that people hope to achieve by closed borders are sufficient to fall into one of those cases. (That’s in no small part because I think Carens’s objections in Chapter 12 to the attempts to articulate such goals are really compelling.) At the very least, the goals that would justify the use of force have not been clearly articulated. And hence they haven’t been clearly articulated to the targets of the force. So the use of force is unjust. But borders without the use of force to police them just are open borders. I’m not in principle opposed to positive arguments in favour of open borders, of the kind Carens attempts in Chapter 11. But I think there is a simple negative argument in favour of open borders, namely that closed borders require state-sanctioned violence, and state-sanctioned violence requires very strong justification, and that justification has not been provided.

I want to end with a quibble, or perhaps a pet peeve. I think Professor Carens often understates his conclusion. Here is how he sometimes puts it.

The ideal of justice i have identified has two components: a right to freedom of movement across borders and relatively little inequality between states. (278)

But as has been often pointed out, we really shouldn’t care much about the ideal. (Ralph Wedgwood makes this point in a recent blog post.) For one thing, ethicists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if all they do is talk about what heaven will be like. My vision of heaven certainly doesn’t contain guards with guns policing the borders of its different parts, and I suspect yours doesn’t either, but little of practical importance follows from that. What really matters is what would make things better, and what we should aim at doing. But properties of the ideal are not a good guide to this. It certainly doesn’t follow logically from the fact that something is true in the ideal that we should aim to make it true, or be happy that it is actually true. The ideal test-taker makes an even number of mistakes, but little follows from that for the non-ideal. In some circumstances one might think that knowing something is true in the ideal is at least inductive evidence we should aim for it. But that needs to be shown, and it often won’t be true.

This is a quibble because I think Carens’s arguments aren’t really just about the ideal. They are arguments, often strong arguments, that removing barriers to free movement of humans is a good thing, and something we should be aiming for. In the ideal there would be few, or perhaps no, such barriers. But even in the here and now it would be better if there were fewer. That’s the big claim open borders advocates believe, and one we should make clearly.


  1. Here’s a quick bit of data on this. Take the PPP adjusted GDP per capita of the world’s 187 countries, according to the World Bank. Calculate the Gini coefficient for a society that had 187 individuals in it, each assigned an income equal to this GDP per capita of one country. That turns out to be a little under 0.53. Now compare this to some real-world Gini coefficients. Most western democracies have a Gini coefficient that is higher than 0.53 before taxes and transfers, though a fair bit lower afterwards. Taxes and transfers matter, so there is a difference here between intra- and inter- state inequality, but it is less than you might have thought. 

  2. A personal anecdote to bring out the real-world complications. I recently caught a ferry from Macau to Hong Kong. At the end I spent an hour standing in an immigration queue to come into Hong Kong. And the paperwork I used wouldn’t have been sufficient to enter mainland China. Was this an example of unjust restrictions on internal movement, or legitimate policing of state borders? 

{ 33 comments }

1

LFC 05.28.14 at 2:42 am

Not having read the book, I have a question w/r/t this:

The ideal of justice I [i.e., Carens] have identified has two components: a right to freedom of movement across borders and relatively little inequality between states. (278)

Why does he care so much about inequality between states as opposed to inequality between persons? State-to-state GDP-per-capita comparisons may tell something about individual inequality, but that’s not a foregone conclusion. A developing country that increased its GDP by creating a small class of very rich people would have narrowed the inequality between itself and a richer country, but so what? It’s necessary to look behind GDP-per-capita to distributional and poverty figures; otherwise you’re just left with, e.g., “India’s GDP is now closer to that of the U.S. than it was 20 years ago,” but that doesn’t matter, from a normative pt of view, unless India’s GDP growth has actually benefited a reasonably substantial, or at least non-tiny, segment of the pop. [This is just an example; I’m not saying anything about the actual sit. in India.] In other words, state-to-state inequality is of little or no ethical significance unless it can be shown that it has some direct relationship in a given case to person-to-person inequality and to personal ‘life chances’. Or so one cd argue.

Btw a typo:
“3. So, freedom of movement within states should be recognised as a human right.”
“within” should be “between” here, I think

2

Brian 05.28.14 at 3:47 am

I agree LFC. It wouldn’t obviously improve things in the US if several finance types moved from Greenwich, CT to a self-contained rich establishment in West Virginia, though it would reduce inequality between states. Indeed, it may make things worse, since it would increase inequality within states.

At times it feels like Carens is backing away from the strongest implications of his arguments. If the ideal consists of equality between states and free movement, then it is consistent to say that borders are good (or at least acceptable) in a world without equality between states. Hopefully he can clarify exactly what is intended here.

And thanks for typo spotting, I’ve fixed it now.

3

John Quiggin 05.28.14 at 4:13 am

Considering the Australian example, there used to be system of bonded teachers’ scholarships, which required the recipients to take postings often in country areas, putting them in the same position as Arya in your example. There were also immigration schemes (eg Snowy Mountains) with similar requirements. As (presumably) with Arya lots of people accepted the deal as the only way to get an education, but were still unhappy with the requirement to live and work in the bush, and sought to get around it. The system was eventually abandoned as unsatisfactory, but no one (IIRC) drew the distinction between the teachers (Australian citizens) and the Snowy workers (migrants). So, I don’t think this can quite be the central point.

4

dr ngo 05.28.14 at 4:31 am

Hong Kong, where I lived for 18 years, and Macau are anomalies, exceptions to almost every rule, justified because “they work.” Although the Chinese are insistent that they are part of China – and I was there before and during the reversion to PRC control in 1998, so I heard most of the arguments – they have also long realized that the particular benefit, i.e., prosperity that they bring would be lost if they were simply subsumed into the body politic. So they are Special Administrative Regions (SARs), and are, in terms of borders, treated as quite different from the “mainland” (as HK-ers express it). I’m not sure if most people realize that the vast majority of Chinese have NO automatic right to enter HK, require special papers to be able to do so, and are turned back at the border if they lack such papers, or stopped by force of arms (if necessary) should they try to enter the SAR “illegally.” This may or may not be good policy – I happen to think it is, because with fully open borders HK would likely be swarmed overnight and reduced to a second-rate Shanghai, but be that as it may – but I suspect it’s lousy philosophy, if you’re trying to distinguish internal from international travel.

5

Chris Bertram 05.28.14 at 5:27 am

I’m glad to say that I’ve pre-empted your advice Brian, and will be running exactly that course next year!

6

Brian 05.28.14 at 6:15 am

John @3,

I see – maybe in general we should think that restrictions on where one can live, tied to obligations to work in a particular region – are not in general violations of free internal movement because they are so prevalent. I still think there is something membership-specific though. The citizens who were required to live in the bush has basically agreed to a voluntary deal. In effect they’d incurred a debt, and the only way to pay it off, which they knew at the time they signed up, would be to live somewhere sub-optimal. That’s different to migrant workers who have no legal way to live where they would like.

dr ngo @4 -

Yeah, it’s a weird case. If it is basically a one-off in the world, then it should be treated just like that, i.e., ignored for the purposes of drawing generalisations. I suspect in the future there will be more and more strange cases like it. If I travel from Edinburgh to London to Amsterdam to Oslo, how many ‘internal’ borders do I cross and how many ‘international’ ones? There is only one place I have to show a passport, but it isn’t clear that it is the most significant of the borders.

Chris @ 5 -

When it’s ready, I’d love to see the syllabus!

7

Adrian Kelleher 05.28.14 at 7:25 am

There are in any case many internal borders within China. Internal visas are normal and not just for Hong Kong.

8

Matt 05.28.14 at 7:35 am

I think there is a very small class of cases in which a state is entitled to use force against an individual. And in every one of those cases, the state is obliged to explain its use of force in a way that could at least make sense to the target of the force.

How broadly is force read here? Is there a way to circumscribe it so that the negative argument works for open borders but not right-libertarianism in general?

To someone who has spent more hours than is healthy arguing with right-libertarians on the Internet, this argument for open borders sounds perilously close to the right-libertarian “men with guns” argument that works against most government functions. Identify something prosaic that governments do, then make it sound sinister and unconscionable by mentioning that if you don’t go along willingly men with guns will bend you to the will of the state. It doesn’t matter if you actually make direct contact with men with guns; the implicit threat is enough. The postman delivering a registered letter from the IRS is like a man putting you in a cage at gunpoint because that’s what can happen, eventually, if you are extraordinarily resistant and belligerent toward what the IRS is telling you. A closely related term that pops up a lot among right-libertarians is “initiation of force.” No good person initiates force, governments initiate force whenever they enforce laws*, so government in general is the opposite of all that is good.

I’m wondering if 1) this negative argument for open borders is not easily dodged just by ensuring that the procedures for excluding/repelling persons lacking a legal claim to residence rarely escalate to literal use of weapons or incarceration and 2) if this argument does not also sweep away street parking regulations, business licenses, motorcycle helmet laws, and every other thing that violators don’t think make sense and that are not part of the “very small class” of cases where a state is entitled to use force against an individual.

For the record, I don’t feel personally threatened by open borders. I face limited danger from increased labor competition and don’t have any great attachment to the regional culture; I immigrated (within the USA) far from my home 10 years ago. I have never really tried to reason through border controls beyond my knee-jerk feelings against them, and I had planned to just absorb the entries in this seminar rather than opine. But I was unable to resist tugging at the thread of this particular argument.

*Other than laws enforcing private property, which are somehow magically different. If a government collects property taxes that is initiation of force, and the household that refuses to pay is resisting force. If a private land owner rents to sharecroppers that is the way things ought to be, and the sharecropper that refuses to pay according to contract is initiating force. Evicting the sharecropper at gunpoint is certainly not initiating force! Making a sharecropper choose between a contract favoring the land owner in every way on the one hand, and a hungry rootless lumpenproletariat existence on the other, is certainly not initiating force!

9

PlutoniumKun 05.28.14 at 9:14 am

To add to the points made about internal restrictions, planning restrictions are also a form of internal ‘settlement control’. For example, in Ireland it is common in rural areas under strong pressure of demand for holiday homes, or within commuting distances of employment areas to have ‘local’ rules whereby only people who can demonstrate ties to a particular area are allowed build a house on agricultural land. Given the demand for housing in such areas, this means that those unable to demonstrate those ties are effectively priced out of the market. There are variations on this type of development restriction in many liberal democratic states, especially in areas with designations for wildlife, historic building, or landscape protection.

10

Matt 05.28.14 at 1:03 pm

(Just for clarity, I’m not the “Matt” above.)

This is very nicely done, Brian, and I agree with very much of it. I’ll note that one of the best and most concise set of arguments against this and other “consistency” arguments is still Brian Barry’s contribution to the Ethikon volume, _Free Movement_ that he co-edited with Robert Goodin many years back. People keep making arguments that that Barry sliced to pieces in that book, so it’s worth pointing people to it again, I think, even though it’s fairly old.

I don’t think there are many philosophy departments around that currently have on the curriculum a course on the ethics of immigration. Here’s some free advice to my fellow philosophers: Add such a course

I am happy to second this advice. But, I also want to suggest that, before teaching such a course, philosophers ought to read some non-philosophical work on immigration. Lots of stuff written by philosophers on the topic is bad, often (though not only) because they do not know enough about the subject and so just make things up. This leads to bad, often worthless, philosophy. Some books that are useful to read would include _The Age of Migration_, by Stephen Castle, Hein de Haas, and Mike Miller; _Beyond Smoke and Mirrors_, by Doug Massey, Jorge Durand, and Nolan J. Malone; _Global Issues in Immigration Law_, by Raquel E. Aldana, Won Kidane, Beth Lyon and Karla M. McKanders (this one is very good on comparative immigration law issues.) and Guests and Aliens, by Saskia Sassen. There’s a really large literature and these are merely examples. I’m sure that others would have different choices, but these are all books that would be among the first that I’d recommend to philosophers wanting to know more about immigration, and who want to be able to talk about the subject semi-competently.

11

David 05.28.14 at 1:20 pm

I agree that “force” may not be the best word to use here. Whilst there are certainly cases in the world where borders are patrolled by people with guns, the essential methods of control (for that’s what it is) are the visa and the control of entry points. If you go the the Embassy or Consulate of another country and apply for a visa and are refused, or if you are turned back at a border crossing point, then it’s hard to argue that “force” is being used against you, although if you choose to escalate the situation, then in theory at some point it could be. In my experience, though, entry control restrictions of this kind are used as a filtering mechanism, and also to collect statistics (often politically necessary) and to demonstrate (again for political reasons) that the country is not being “overwhelmed” by immigrants.
A couple of questions. Much of this discussion (and I apologize if these points have been covered in the book) seems to be tied to the conventionally liberal discourse of individual rights. This is understandable – I expect all of us travel to some extent, and most of us have had annoying or even upsetting problems with crossing borders. But I wonder how sweeping the conclusions are intended to be. Are the rights of movement referred to in the syllogism absolute or qualified ones, especially in a world where economic differences between states are always likely to exist in practice?
Are these rights infinitely scalable? Even in a world where there is essential equality of living standards, people will still want to move around for other reasons (to escape discrimination or the threat of conflict for example). Is there a difference between one individual decision to relocate, and the collective effect of thousands, or tens of thousands?
Second, even domestically, the right of free movement is not absolute. Prisoners, people in isolation wards, the mentally ill, registered child offenders etc may have their freedom of movement restricted. I can think of at least two analogous reasons why a state might wish to obstruct perfectly free movement across its borders, even if it thereby limits the rights of those who wish to relocate.
One would be health-related; denying entry to those who had come from a region where there were known infectious diseases, or at least demanding that they show something like a WHO vaccination passport. Note that this would impact on the rights of those who were in fact healthy, because there might be no way of easily distinguishing them.
The second is crime-related. Many countries would want to deny entry to, say, a known Russian mafia associate visiting their capital to make cash purchases of a number of expensive houses – indeed, there might be treaties actually obliging them to do so. But such restrictions might in practice also affect the rights of third parties – family members etc. Likewise, visitors from countries which were known as centres of drug or contraband smuggling might be refused visas if they cannot explain the purpose of their journey, denied entry when they arrive, or at least subjected to a thorough search and identity check. In practice, this kind of procedure will also affect the rights of many perfectly innocent people.
The common thread, of course, is the idea that it is necessary to consider all of the implications of free movement across borders, not just the implications for the individuals who want to move. It may be objected that these cases are extreme (true, though they do actually happen) but that is in many ways the point – either these rights are absolute or they are qualified. If they are absolute do we accept that they come with penalties for others? If they are qualified, where do we draw the line?

12

L2P 05.28.14 at 5:17 pm

“And in every one of those cases, the state is obliged to explain its use of force in a way that could at least make sense to the target of the force. I don’t think the goals that people hope to achieve by closed borders are sufficient to fall into one of those cases.”

I’m a little confused here. What does it mean for the explanation to “make sense” to the target of the force?

For example, look at a prospective Mexican immigrant to the United States. Force (let’s assume, other commentators make good points here) is used to keep the prospective immigrant out because, let’s say, a quota has already been met for this year. It seems like this prospective immigrant would understand and actually agree with the general principle that a country can set a criteria for immigration and use force to keep out those who don’t meet the standard. After all, Mexico is violently committed to just that (there’s no shortage of heartbreaking documentaries of immigrants trying to get from Central American into Mexico).

So does this mean that each individual immigrant must agree with the use of force to keep THEM out? No one ever agrees to that, for any use of force. We’re all special snowflakes that are doing necessary things.

So what are you getting at here?

13

js. 05.28.14 at 7:40 pm

Lots of stuff written by philosophers on the topic is bad, often (though not only) because they do not know enough about the subject and so just make things up.

What? Philosophers making things up when they don’t know the empirical details? Unheard of!!

Actually just wanted to say that this has been a great series of posts. Thanks to CT for organizing/hosting this.

14

Metatone 05.29.14 at 8:31 am

To add on to PlutoniumKun:

The burghers of Princeton, NJ are fine with an “open border” with Trenton, NJ – but there are a bunch of rules, enforced by “men with guns” about settling down in Princeton. There is not “open settlement” and certainly would not be any tolerance of a shanty town/favela…

To me this is a pretty key practical point – many states (although the USA not so much) effectively try to guarantee housing to citizens. How does that interact with open borders?

15

Manju 05.29.14 at 10:50 am

Paul Krugman is pro-immigration. But he says the data says this:

1. Immigration drives down the wages of the natives who compete with the immigrants
2. The rest of us benefit (lower prices) but the benefits are small
3. Low-skilled immigration increases income-inequality (slightly)
4. Mass low-skilled immigration threatens the welfare state

If he is correct, then one who advocates open-borders is in effect advocating for an increase in income inequality and the demise of the welfares state.

Is this moral?

16

Manju 05.29.14 at 10:53 am

Also, quotes from Krugman that substantiate that the 4 points above are indeed his position:

1, 2, & 3 . “… while immigration may have raised overall income slightly, many of the worst-off native-born Americans are hurt by immigration — especially immigration from Mexico. Because Mexican immigrants have much less education … they increase the supply of less-skilled labor, driving down the wages of the worst-paid Americans.”

4. “…open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net; if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.”

1,2. “…it’s clear that the earlier wave of immigration increased inequality and depressed the wages of the less skilled.”

17

Brian 05.29.14 at 10:56 am

I’d be stunned to see data that showed immigration increases income inequality. I would believe it if the data showed that immigration to the US increased income inequality in the US. But that’s not at all the same thing.

Quick thought experiment. Take two million middle-income (by local standards) Bangladeshis, move them to the US, and multiply their current wages by 5. Will that increase or decrease inequality? Answer: It will increase inequality in the US – there will be 2 million more really poor people, but it will decrease inequality – 2 million really poor people will have gotten richer.

The argument that open borders would undermine the welfare state seems like the argument that ending Jim Crow would undermine the welfare state. The premises may be true, given the somewhat limited empathy of the electorate. But is that really a reason to maintain a practice you think is abhorrent?

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Brian 05.29.14 at 11:10 am

I agree with Matt @ 8 (and people following him) that the case I was sketching for open borders was miles too simple, and as stated looks like it over-generates.

I do think there’s one big difference between humdrum everyday government activities and the maintenance of borders. It’s true that ultimately even the most mundane regulations are ultimately backed by people with guns, and we can ask whether that’s appropriate. And it would be wrong to have a knee-jerk reaction of “Oh, this isn’t the thing government force should be used for.”

But note that everyone involved, including the people regulated (with regulations backed by the threat of sanctions etc) have at least in principle a say in the regulations. That is, they can vote, and have a say in all the other ways that go along with living in a democracy. I’m much more sympathetic to heavy-handed regulation within the context of a democracy. (Though not without limits. Restrictions on groups motivated by pure animus seems immoral to me, even if democratically passed.) The people restricted by borders don’t have anything like that kind of say.

So consider another thought experiment. Imagine the good citizens of Michigan decided that there should be visas required to cross between the Upper and Lower Peninsula. And that was agreed on by a majority on both sides of the straits separating them. It seems to me there would be a stronger case for the acceptability of such restrictions than if, for example, the Upper Peninsula unilaterally imposed visa restrictions on all outsiders.

I still worry that I’m being too libertarianish here, because I see the force of that criticism. But I think it’s worth thinking about how we would feel about a “libertarianism” that (a) conceded that democratic governments can legitimately do things that undemocratic governments cannot, including regulate in the interests of collective welfare, and (b) was not so obsessed with property rights over other kinds of rights. A libertarianism modified by (a) and (b) will not have many of the consequences of “right-libertarianism in general”, but will still strongly suggest that borders should be open.

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David 05.29.14 at 12:40 pm

The problem with thought experiments, I would suggest, is that they don’t take account of context, which itself tends to confer legitimacy. After all, countries are not going to impose controls on movement just for fun, since these controls are often expensive and manpower intensive to enforce. In the old Soviet Union, for example, very extensive controls on movement were a product of a paranoid security culture. More recently, a number of authoritarian Asian states imposed strict controls on movements both internally and across borders, during the SARS epidemic fifteen years ago. In the latter case, at least, whilst the populations had no voice in the measures introduced, it’s hard to deny the legitimacy of the measures themselves. Air travel these days almost always involves identity checks and boarding controls, sometimes even for internal flights. Are such measures automatically acceptable in, say, Canada, but not in China?

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Ze Kraggash 05.29.14 at 2:24 pm

“I still worry that I’m being too libertarianish here, because I see the force of that criticism. But I think it’s worth thinking about how we would feel about a @18 “libertarianism” that (a) conceded that democratic governments can legitimately do things that undemocratic governments cannot, including regulate in the interests of collective welfare, and (b) was not so obsessed with property rights over other kinds of rights. A libertarianism modified by (a) and (b) will not have many of the consequences of “right-libertarianism in general”, but will still strongly suggest that borders should be open.”

Sure. The tension is clearly between the individual right to move around and the collective right to take actions in the interests of membership. As long as you “strongly suggest that borders should be open” you, in this particular case, are being libertarian.

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Ronan(rf) 05.29.14 at 4:58 pm

“I’d be stunned to see data that showed immigration increases income inequality. I would believe it if the data showed that immigration to the US increased income inequality in the US. But that’s not at all the same thing.
Quick thought experiment. Take two million middle-income (by local standards) Bangladeshis..”

Wouldn’t it depend on who was emigrating from the sending country ? Say the receiving country has an immigration system which prioritises educated or skilled workers (the relatively wealthy in the sending country) and so the majority of immigrants are skilled and educated – surely the way remittances would flow back into the sending country, (and the opportunities created for others within the emigrants family/social network), could plausibly increase inequality both in the sending and receiving country (though perhaps still lessen inequality by some other measure).

Even with open borders this would seem a plausible outcome, if the most likely to migrate from poorer countries to the wealthier ones are going to be those with the resources and skills. Perhaps a system that might not lead to increasing inequality in the sending country is one focussed on low or non skilled immigration (say with grants and help emigrating etc) Although that (1) is not a realistic potential policy and (2) would probably lead to even greater inequality in the receiving country.
Does that sound right to anyone, or am I off base here ?

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Manju 05.29.14 at 6:09 pm

I’d be stunned to see data that showed immigration increases income inequality. I would believe it if the data showed that immigration to the US increased income inequality in the US. But that’s not at all the same thing.

This is almost certainly true. I meant income-inequality within the open borders nation.

I don’t think the decrease in inequality between nations assuages the moral conundrum though. I mean, that’s what is in fact happening now. Inequality between is decreasing (mostly due to India and China) while inequality within borders increases. But yet, the former does not cancel out the latter.

Maybe it should. I dunno. I’m not arguing what one’s morals should be; but rather: if you believe in a welfare state and in income equality (within) is it moral to push for open borders?

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Manju 05.29.14 at 6:19 pm

Wouldn’t it depend on who was emigrating from the sending country ?

Yes, in theory.

In reality, the poorest 5% of Americans are richer than 70% of all other Earthlings. There are more un/low-skilled workers in the world than high. For the US, Mexico is right across the border and afak most immigrants to the US are indeed poor, especially if u include the undocumented.

I could be wrong but I think open borders = massive influx of low skilled workers.

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novakant 05.29.14 at 8:18 pm

I’m not arguing what one’s morals should be; but rather: if you believe in a welfare state and in income equality (within) is it moral to push for open borders?

Wow, that’s quite a dichotomy you’re trying to establish here, alas your premisses don’t hold up: Krugman is not pro-immigration and is twisting every statistic to suit his paranoid social-democratic head, e.g:

“The most authoritative recent study of this effect, by George Borjas and Lawrence Katz of Harvard, estimates that U.S. high school dropouts would earn as much as 8 percent more if it weren’t for Mexican immigration.”

8 %, no wait “as much as 8%” – let’s kick the Mexicans out! And what about the benefits to immigrants, and that slight overall benefit for everyone? More here.

Also, since this debate is not about the US (right?) but the ethics of immigration in general let’s look at the UK: Migrants contribute £25bn to UK economy – and yet, the same memes gets repeated over here as well. And many self-proclaimed lefties are slowly but surely coming out against immigration, soon they will be Daily Mail readers.

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Matt 05.29.14 at 8:35 pm

In technical fields, especially software and engineering, the immigration grumping within the USA is usually about H-1B visa workers coming here from other countries: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/H-1B_visa for a quick background.

I’m a software developer and I too think the H-1B visa system is unjust, but I feel for the plight of the foreign workers using it more than the citizens like myself possibly competing for jobs with them. If you are working on an H-1B visa you need to keep an employer or you may have to leave the country in a hurry. I was working for a San Francisco startup in 2010 when an acquisition abruptly failed and the company shut down overnight. I remember a couple of my H-1B colleagues working frantically to find another job ASAP so they didn’t have to leave their adopted city, friends, and romantic partners. The employers still have too much power despite some past reforms. Based on the symposium so far I’m not sure if “brain drain” is ethically problematic or not, but I’d much rather that the US offered an expedited path to permanent residency or full citizenship to persons who currently qualify for H-1B visas. They were people I’d be glad to have as fellow citizens and if employers had less power over them it would improve their working conditions and the conditions of native-born workers in the same field.

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Ronan(rf) 05.29.14 at 8:42 pm

ps to my above comment, here’s a paper on remittances and inequality

http://scholar.harvard.edu/files/garip/files/garip_demography_2012.pdf

(im not saying this as an argument against immigration, just as an example of how it might increase inequality not only in the receiving country. Also it’s been a while since I read the article so not sure if my argument above is the papers argument)

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Manju 05.30.14 at 8:07 am

The argument that open borders would undermine the welfare state seems like the argument that ending Jim Crow would undermine the welfare state. The premises may be true, given the somewhat limited empathy of the electorate

Krugman isn’t arguing that “open immigration can’t coexist with a strong social safety net” because, given that the beneficences will now be recent non-white immigrants, the electorate will turn on the welfare state.

He’s saying its more like a monetary stimulus in a liquidity trap. It won’t work: “…if you’re going to assure health care and a decent income to everyone, you can’t make that offer global.”

The system will collapse. If you want Open Borders, you are objectively anti-welfare state…to riff off Orwell…whether you know it or not. That’s what he’s saying.

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Manju 05.30.14 at 8:19 am

your premisses don’t hold up: Krugman is not pro-immigration

He is pro-immigration (tho not open-borders):

I’m instinctively, emotionally pro-immigration.

But his normative stand doesn’t change the truth of his positive economics(how things work). Ultimately he wants to let low-skilled immigrants in anyway…just slowly and carefully and he doesn’t want any system like a guest worker one where the immigrant cannot vote.

He’s not concerned at all about high-skilled immigration. Even if it does drive down wages for the upper 2/3rd of the income distribution, so what….that decreases income inequality.

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Ronan(rf) 05.30.14 at 11:54 am

Manju – you’re making a lot of very strong statements here on the back of a couple of Paul Krugman articles on subjects he hasnt specificalised in (the political economy of the welfare state, the economic effects of immigration etc)
You *can’t* say “the system will collapse. If you want Open Borders, you are objectively anti-welfare state”, because we dont know what would happen .. you could say “the system could plausibly collapse/be undermined, have you thought through the consequences of open borders on the welfare state.”

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SamChevre 05.30.14 at 12:27 pm

Thirding the difference between “free movement” and “free settlement.”

I am free to travel to the (much wealthier) town a mile from where I live; I’m free to visit/work/shop there all I want.

If I want to live there, and benefit from the excellent schools, the regularly plowed roads, and all the other niceties of a much wealthier town, I have to pay their property taxes–I have to pay for my share of those things; those taxes are about 3 times what they are in my town for the same size house.

Extending this to immigration, the comparable state to Trenton/Princeton isn’t what’s usually thought of as open borders; it would be open borders IFF you can pay your share of taxes (for the US, about $20,000 per year–40% (government share of GDP) times $50,000 (per capita GDP) for you and each of your dependents.

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David 05.30.14 at 12:55 pm

It’s for this reason that I really wonder whether “immigration” actually makes much sense as a single (and simple) concept, and whether it can be described as “good” or “bad” except by reference to some larger context. As I said above, for large-scale immigration to be beneficial to the host country, a series of prior conditions have to be met, and it’s not clear that they always are, today. It’s not necessarily true, either; that immigration always benefits the immigrant. Not only can large-scale migratory flows be coerced (and even trafficked), but immigrants often have wildly exaggerated ideas of what they will find when they arrive, and are often exploited or simply find themselves penniless and starving, just like before.
What would interest me is the extent to which you can decouple arguments of principle about free movement from these practical economic realities. Can I say, for example, that as a resident of a poor third world country I have a right to move to a much wealthier country, in Europe, let imagine, and then to benefit from the welfare system if I can’t find a job, and from free schooling and health care for my children even if I haven’t paid any taxes yet? Or do I only have a right to be allowed into the country, without any claim on its resources? In the latter case, it seems to me, the right is a pretty theoretical one, given that, in practice, most “rights” imply claims on others, even if those are sometimes disguised. Given all this, I really wonder whether it’s possible to have a general conclusion at all.

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Manju 05.31.14 at 6:33 am

Ronan…you’re right, I’m overstating it ( “If you want Open Borders, you are objectively anti-welfare state”). Economists don’t talk like that. There are only degrees of certainty.

But you’re understating it: “the system could plausibly collapse/be undermined”. The effect Open Borders will have on the welfare state is about as predictable as the effect a regressive tax will have on the poor …ie, you get taxed more the less you make. Sure…its never been tried (I think) but that doesn’t;t stop us from being fairly certain about the consequences.

Yes, Orwell’s “Pacifism is objectively pro-fascist” is not helpful. I would like to walk that back. But at some point is there not also a moral duty to consider what the likely consequences of out actions are?

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Phil 05.31.14 at 5:05 pm

assume now that A is a newly formed loose federation of two states, B and C, each of which retains substantial sovereignty. Does this change of status constitute a new form of repression, or not? Folk morality, taken literally, would seem to suggest the new state is more repressive than its predecessors, but this is hardly plausible.

We could call A “the European Union”! And actually I think the intuition you’re ascribing to folk morality does go through. The Romanian whose state is Romania, and who is free to move from Bucharest to Cluj, genuinely is living under a less restrictive regime than the Romanian whose state is the EU and who is not free to move from Bucharest to Berlin.

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