Episode 137: Bryan Caplan discusses open borders
This month, I talk to Bryan Caplan (George Mason University) about what a world without immigration restrictions could look like.
The work discussed in this episode comes out of Bryan’s incredible non-fiction graphic novel, Open Borders, which I highly recommend checking out. Don’t let the comic-book-iness of it fool you; it is 100% accessible and entertaining, but it is also written at the level of detail you’d normally expect to see in a peer-reviewed research paper.
One basic fact about the world today is that it’s kind of a pain to move from country to country. You can maybe pull it off if you’ve already landed a fancy job where you want to move and if you’re coming from a first-world country, but even then, there are more complications than you might think: work visas, sponsorships, visa renewal, permanent residency, possible eventual citizenship. Basically just a ton of red tape. And if you’re coming from a third-world country, forget it: you typically either have to be a political refugee or enter a lottery that leaves you with a vanishingly small chance of getting in. So although it is technically possible to immigrate, assuming that planets are aligned, the fact remains that in most situations, there are strong legal pressures locking us into whatever country we live in right now. Bryan Caplan thinks that we should essentially just eliminate the bureaucratic machine that makes it so difficult to live wherever you please. Sure, there can still be customs, and nation states, and basic security checks—but other than that, make it as easy as possible for everyone to move around.
Let’s take the US as an example. One obvious benefit of opening up our borders is humanitarian: anyone living in poverty would be able to come here and with no difficulty whatsoever be able to start earning ten times as much money as they could back home. But far beyond that, there is a growing body of research within economics which suggests that having a large influx of formerly poor, newly productive people will lead to a boost in our economy. So everybody wins. And it isn’t just any old boost; it’s a massive boost. If these models are correct, everybody wins big time.
Tune in to hear our guest run through some of the empirical evidence for this prediction and find out why, according to him, the supposed dangers of an open boders policy are greatly exaggerated!
If you’re curious to learn more about the arguments discussed in this episode, you can do no better than to turn to the book:
Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, Bryan Caplan and Zach Weinersmith
You might also enjoy Bryan’s blog post at Econlib running through the many topics the book covers.
Finally, our distinguished guest recommends the following paper by Michael Clemens, which was part of the inspiration for his work on open borders:
‘Economics and Emigration: Trillion-Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?', Michael A. Clemens