2013-12-12

Where Restrictionism Goes Awry

I now turn my attention to the second of Simon Grey's three recent posts on immigration. (See my response to the first here.) This second post is short enough that I'll just quickly quote it in its entirety:
Regarding my prior post, I think that the borders debate can be condensed even further. Are the restrictionists wrong because they a) apply the wrong principles logically, b) apply the right principles illogically, or c) because open borders advocates are offended by restrictionist policy?

If a), the open borders crowd needs to show why the (often implicit) principles upon which restrictionist arguments are founded are wrong. If b), the open borders crowd needs to show how the restrictionists went awry in their thinking. If c), though, who cares?
 I'll respond to this in depth, but first I have to point out that it is a bit of a loaded question fallacy. Here's why:

The first point, a), is a contradiction. One cannot apply wrong principles "logically." One can apply valid but false principles logically, because something can be logically valid without being true. But if something is wrong, I understand this to mean that it is neither valid nor true. Adhering to wrong principles is illogical, so I cannot select a).

Point b) is possible, but if I were to make this selection, I would be conceding points (i.e. "right principles") that Grey has not spelled out explicitly. I'm not ready to do that until Grey enumerates his principles, so I cannot select b).

Point c) is a particularly odd one. It's true that my being offended by immigration restrictionism does not, in and of itself, refute any arguments for immigration restrictionism. But the real question is: Why does immigration restrictionism offend me? And the answer to that is because it is an argument in favor of morally inferior conditions (poor immigrants barred from an effective means of improving their lives), economically inferior conditions (trade restrictions always result in a deadweight loss to society), cartelized legal systems over voluntary trade (collective ownership over private ownership), and yes, in many cases outright racism (barring immigrants from entry based on race or creed).

In other words, knowingly adhering to a set of principles that results in both moral error and inferior outcomes is offensive. But the fact that it's offensive isn't the reason restrictionism is wrong. The reasons restrictionism is wrong are also the same reasons restrictionism is offensive.

So I can't technically choose c), either.

Wrong Principles
Immigration restrictionism is based on some pretty wrong principles. My primary objection to immigration restrictionism is its economic unsoundness.

It is interesting to me that most restrictionists lean conservative on the political scale, because most conservatives consider themselves advocates of free market principles. In my view, the most compelling case for open borders is the economic one. Border restrictions are exactly the same thing as import quotas, import tariffs, and other similar trade restrictions. In this case, the commodity is labor. Exactly the same economic analyses apply to the labor market as applies to the markets for automobiles, oil, food, and anything else. It is unanimously understood - even among left-wing liberal economists like Paul Krugman, who famously wrote a book on free trade - that trade restrictions impede our standard of living on both sides of every border. Any restrictionist who tries to make an economic argument against immigration is thus applying wrong economic principles. See this Open Borders page for an in-depth look at the economic case for open borders.

Belief in collective ownership of the commons is also a wrong principle used to argue in favor of restrictionism. Again, the most compelling argument against this is economic: the Tragedy of the Commons. It's also a morally wanting principle because collective ownership - unlike joint ownership - is primarily used to exclude others from using resources, rather than managing the efficient use of resources. I mentioned yesterday that I would like to write a future blog post on the immorality of collective ownership. I will have to save that point for later.

Finally, and most egregiously, the case for restrictionism is often made using overtly racist claims. These sorts of claims are neatly summarized here. I do not need to explain in depth why claims about immigrant IQ or cultural inferiority are racist. On the contrary, it is the burden of the immigration restrictionists who choose to make these arguments to explain not merely the dangers of hypothetical troglodytes who drag their knuckles across the border only to ruin everything, but more specifically: why should I believe that immigrants are inferior on any level? Often times, when confronted with this question, restrictionists recede into claims of self-evidence: "It's obvious." "You're denying reality." "People are not fungible resources." "Are you saying there are no genetic differences between human beings?" and so on. But absolutely none of these responses establish the validity of the initial claim. Thus, the burden falls to restrictionists to prove that immigrants are inferior.

Illogic
Yesterday - and in a previous Open Borders piece - I discussed the contradiction inherent in believing in collective ownership.

The argument is this: If Simon Grey is a restrictionist and RP Long is an open borders advocate, and we both live in the same country, then "common property" is not a valid argument against open borders. The reason is because some of the people who hold a legitimate claim to the commons favor open borders, and some don't. There is only one way under a common property regime to resolve this dispute: democracy. But if democracy is capable of nullifying some property ownership claims in the immigration arena, then it is also capable of nullifying property ownership claims in any other arena. That opens the door to an argument for socialism.

Thus, unless Grey wants to openly advocate socialism so long as it is democratically established, he needs to provide some argument that demonstrates that immigration is a special case. Otherwise, he's caught holding contradictory beliefs, and that isn't logically consistent.

Conclusion
Hopefully I have shed some light on Grey's question. To be clear, I think he asks a good question, even if it is a bit of a loaded one. It's healthy to ask those who disagree with us: "If I'm wrong, then where are you saying that I have gone wrong?" That demonstrates both good-faith in the conversation and a commitment to rationality. While Grey and I disagree on immigration, Grey is to be lauded for his approach to the debate. Even if we never convince each other, it should be obvious that we're capable of disagreeing respectfully and civilly.

That's important because it demonstrates that a dialogue is necessary. Clearly many different people in the country feel many different things about the immigration debate. It's a debate that needs to happen, and we should consider it positive and encouraging that folks like Simon Grey prove that the debate is possible.

That is an unequivocal win for everyone.