My last post about migration focused on the predictions of economists about the effects of open borders. Commenter Oliver made the point, surely correctly, that, given social, cultural, economic, and political feedback effects, it is simply impossible to know. But there are other ways of thinking about the issues other than looking at the aggregate consequences. For example, we can focus on the rights of individuals to seek new lives, associates and opportunities and on the rights of groups, peoples, states and nations to exclude outsiders. The unilateral right to exclude is well-represented in the literature, especially be the work of Christopher Heath Wellman (see his contribution to the excellent Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude? (with Phillip Cole arguing the opposite cases)).

Such works, though, typically address the issues at a somewhat idealized level, asking what rights (properly constituted legitimate democratic) polities do or don’t have. That doesn’t necessarily provide adequate guidance in the actual world; nor does it tell voters who think their state has the right to exclude whether or not to support exclusionary policies. Those strike me as very pertinent questions. Proponents of highly liberalized migration policies are often chastised for being insufficiently alive to the political realities. But a fair response to the self-styled realists is to ask, given the way things are, what they are actually prepared to countenance.
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