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"And the countries closest to open borders — the Gulf monarchies and Singapore — do virtually the opposite, for obvious reasons: Both geniuses and janitors are well worth welcoming, but only as long as"

...they go home again. Singapore has a population of 6 million of which about 1 3/4 million are guest workers (requiring govt. permits) - the Gulf monarchies have similarly small populations & also use guest workers with permits - nobody has open borders! Only 'failed states' - or those who want to become failed states - have open borders. Open borders only work in luxury seminars in ivory towers.

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Exactly. The open borders people have absolutely no concept how violent and chaotic most of the world, and most of the world's people, actually are. That is more than luxury belief. It is mental illness. A country is not a territory. A country is a people. A visit to any major European city will demonstrate what mass immigration actually does to a nation.

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A nation is a people. A country is a territory that may have 1, less than 1, or more than 1 nations within. US is and always has been a multinational country.

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A country is a people is an easily refutable statement, borders have changed significantly (especially in Europe) over the last 2 centuries. Borders have been porous for millennia. Spains was ruled by Islam for over 700 years which is longer than europeans have been in America. By saying "a country is people" you emulate "ein Volk, ein Reich" and we all know where that led us. In your comment you probably mean "my country is my people" to the exclusion of "others", slippery moral slope that can lead to concentration camps.

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In contrast with… American cities? I’m certainly no European supremacist, but inviting this particular comparison seems like quite an own-goal.

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That's a pretty funny argument.

The same argument could be used against the airline deregulation we saw a few decades ago. (Back then only failed states had deregulated airlines.)

Or (with some limitations) against legalising marijuana.

You are mixing up cause and effect and correlation.

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Thanks for pushing back against the "luxury belief" echo chamber. Something interesting I've observed is that for about a decade, some progressive voices have argued that their opponents' ideas are defacto wrong because they are "rooted in privilege". It's unfortunate to see conservative voices picking up the same ridiculous talking point.

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Lee Kuan Yew would turn over in his grave if he heard you describing Singapore as open borders. This is a guy who laughed in Charlie Rose's face and called the global poor a "bunch of worthless fruit pickers" when he suggested that allowing them to immigrate would strengthen America.

Singapore has 286k Migrant Domestic Workers. Out of a total of six million people this amounts to less then 5%.

It has another 441,100 for construction and marine shipyards. A lot of that is people that work on the cargo ships that surround Singapore that anyone who visits can see for miles from the shore. They aren't really living in Singapore on any kind of permanent basis, even as guest workers.

The rest of their foreign workers are on high wage or student categories, not low IQ worker grunts.

The two largest sources for foreign born in Singapore are Malaysia and China. With Chinese Malays making up a big portion of the Malay contingent. Far from importing low IQs from another race a large % of Singapore guest workers are of Chinese descent like the dominant majority.

The punishment for illegal immigration is a jail stay and caning. People employing illegal immigrants are subject to jail terms as well.

LKY was a real statesmen. He built a real society. Luxury Beliefs are the difference between someone like LKY (who saw open borders for what it is) and Bryan Caplan (who lives in a fantasy land).

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Hard agree. What the fuck is wrong with the open borders people? Do they not understand what violence is? LKY certainly did. A country is not a territory. A country is a people and it must be protected or it will vanish.

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"do you not understand what violence is?" "A country is a people that must be protected."

Sounds to me like you don't understand what violence is. Who is the people of a country and who do they need protection from? By crime standards in the US "the people" need to be protected from domestic nationals WAAAY more than they need protection from immigrants. So more immigrants would actually help crime stats go down. There: now you are protected.

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"Unless ... immigrants and their descendants remain on welfare until the end of time. Fortunately, this is not what normally happens under the status quo."

Whether or not they are ever gainfully employed, immigrants or their descendants whose tax contributions (including sales tax and payroll deductions for Social Security or Medicare) over the course of their lifetimes amount to less than the cost of benefits they receive at public expense are a net burden on taxpayers. In the past, when little or no subsidy was to be had by immigrants at public expense, there was scant incentive for indolent people lacking skills and/or ingenuity to migrate to this country, but matters are different now.

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And the others are a net benefit. Caplan has tried to do the math in his book.

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But what about jobs, security, rule of law? Do these not count? You seem to make the argument that people only migrate to be free riders. That is clearly not the case. Also, evidence is overwhelming on the positive contributions of immigrants to fiscal accounts - Faaaar outweighing their welfare costs. Caplan or Nowrasteh have done plenty of work on this.

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You're attacking a strawman. I neither said nor implied that the only motive for people to migrate here is to suck up freebies. I suspect, however, that the availability of accommodations and services of various sorts at public expense was an important inducement for many of the "undocumented" migrants who've come across since Biden ditched the remain-in-Mexico policy.

What overwhelming evidence proves that the total tax contributions of most or all of the uninvited migrants who've come here to stay in recent years will ultimately exceed the total cost of all the benefits they and their dependents receive at public expense?

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“ Immigrants have a more positive net fiscal impact than that of native‐​born Americans in most scenarios in the Updated Model and in every scenario in the Cato Model, depending on how the costs of public goods are allocated. The Cato Model finds that immigrant individuals who arrive at age 25 and who are high school dropouts have a net fiscal impact of +$216,000 in net present value terms, which does not include their descendants. Including the fiscal impact of those immigrants’ descendants reduces those immigrants’ net fiscal impact to +$57,000. By comparison, native‐​born American high school dropouts of the same age have a net fiscal impact of −$32,000 that drops to −$177,000 when their descendants are included”

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So are you saying that it IS in fact a good example of a luxury belief if he'd based his argument on downward pressure on working class wages, increased competition, and decreased leverage/bargaining power by labor bc of greater supply? So your only beef with his argument is that he premised it on fiscal burden and assimilation concerns? Seems to me that being pro increased or illegal immigration is a pretty clear example of an issue where the interests of the affluent class and the working class diverge, so advocating for it while framing the issue as entirely about racism or xenophobia rather than the economic interests of those on the bottom half would indeed be a good example of a luxury belief.

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> So are you saying that it IS in fact a good example of a luxury belief if he'd based his argument on downward pressure on working class wages...

That's not my read of Bryan's post. I think the "he could argue" phrasing is intended to convey that focus on differential labor market impacts would be a more coherent argument even if he ultimately didn't actually agree with it in a factual if not definitional sense.

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deletedMay 28
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I'm not sure that's his point. At least, it wouldn't make sense. Rob Henderson's thesis on luxury beliefs is in-culture only...beliefs of the affluent elite that their own working classes can't adopt without it hurting them. It doesn't apply to people in other countries/cultures.

It certainly does have an impact on a person here if their job is being a maid or landscaper or roofer, etc. All jobs that non-immigrants used to do and now almost entirely performed by immigrant labor.

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Bryan - Your endorsement of open borders rests on the premise that those who are currently coming to the US in droves actually want to work/start a business/contribute to the economy.

Yes, historically this was the engine of growth for the US (and Australia and many other countries). People arrived in the US with the expectation that they would WORK and build a better future for themselves and their families.

Today, illegal immigrants arrive with the expectation of free housing, food vouchers, free medical care, and no enforcement of laws. Here in San Francisco, the tenants union is providing coaching for how to take over private property as a squatter. Governments in Central America are clearing out their prisons and sending people to the US.

How will this all play out? I wish I were as optimistic as you are.

PS - I came across your column a few months ago. I remember you from many years ago when you wrote for the California Review at Berkeley when I was the editor. So glad to see your writing and libertarian/economic thinking has continued as a career!

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Is there an empirical basis for your claim that immigrants today are less likely to contribute than immigrants of the past? For what it’s worth, the median age of immigrants to the US is pretty similar to what it was 150 years ago, and far below 1960s peak. (Per Migration Policy)

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Immigrants today are lower IQ then the average native, at least the immigrants people care about.

Lower IQ pretty reliably tracks to being a fiscal burden.

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If you throw out the immigrants you loose a major population of your y

university professors and PhDs. Comparing IQs is insulting and hardly an indicator of anything (high IQ doesn’t track with entrepreneurial success, etc) As far as ignorance in America i would say that it’s pretty bad here too, it’s just a more empowered and vocal ignorance.

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International IQ data is specious. But even accepting it as accurate, our immigrants are increasingly from countries with high reported IQs. For much of the last ten years, the US has received more immigrants from e.g., China than Mexico https://www.migrationpolicy.org/article/frequently-requested-statistics-immigrants-and-immigration-united-states-2024#:~:text=Immigrants%20from%20Mexico%20have%20comprised,top%20origins%20for%20new%20arrivals.

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There was a period during the Great Recession when immigration at the southern border slowed down, but this has turned around entirely in the Biden era were the border is essentially wide open.

It’s important to count illegals, even if they eventually get citizenship, and their children (who get birthright citizenship even if they are illegal). One needs only look at the ethnic trend in the census to see where things are going.

In Europe the story is different, they got waves of Arab immigration in the 2010s.

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@wacko - My point is regarding the incentive structure. Historically, immigrants came to the US expecting to work. Today the illegal aliens are expecting free hand outs from the US taxpayers. Different incentive structures attract different types of people and will generate different results.

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I understand your contention about the incentives. But foreign-born workers have a higher labor force participation rate than native-born Americans bls.gov/news.release/pdf/forbrn.pdf

Furthermore, I understand your anxiety around contemporary immigrants sapping welfare, in contrast to historical immigrants who came to work. But this is also factually unfounded. At least for the past couple of decades, the immigrant labor force participation rate has only increased https://cis.org/Report/Employment-Situation-Immigrants-and-Natives-First-Quarter-2019

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There is plenty of evidence contrary to what you state. Bryan’s Open Borders book says plenty about that but you should also read Nowrasteh’s work which is pretty definitive in my opinion. Most immigrants are not the ones at the border, most come in planes and contribute more than they take. Their incentive is not to be free riders.

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US does not record good data, looking at danish data which is the whole country here https://inquisitivebird.substack.com/p/the-effects-of-immigration-in-denmark you see that non western immigrants (but not chn and ind) are negative

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A quibble: Bryan argued that the rich pay for the benefits of immigrants through their taxes, but is it not just as likely that the poor pay via less spending on them. Or that no-one now pays, but future generations do via government debt?

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Welfare benefits would be more generous if there were no immigrants? I don’t see the connection. The feds do not have a set budget for relief which they distribute equally among those who qualify.

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The argument is that voters are more inclined to a welfare state if they think the average person is just like them. This is why the welfare queens was such a successful piece of propaganda.

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That ship sailed 150 years ago, if not longer.

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No but there is plenty of government provision that has this character.

Take an issue close to the heart of our host and of many of his readers: housing.

In the UK certain people are entitled to have housing provided for them by the government. There is not enough of this and there are therefore waiting lists. If the local population of eligible people increases due to immigration, then a native is potentially put at a disadvantage.

Likewise for many other public amenities.

You may retort that immigrants can pay taxes that pay for this stuff, and this might be true (though not for all), but the money doesn't go directly to where the shortage was caused, so some will directly lose out.

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The chain of causation seems questionable. But say that is correct. Does it really seem like a decisive factor?

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Not decisive in terms of Bryan's wider point. But the specific point that it is in fact the rich who pay any real cost of immigration, is too strong at minimum, or outright the wrong way round at the maximum.

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He said they pay the taxes. Is that the entire cost of immigration?

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"Government Spending" = "Salaries of Credential Service Providers"

Is a doctor in favor of lower taxes because he's a high earner or in favor of more government spending on Medicare/Medicaid since that is where his income comes from?

My guess is both at the same time depending on how it flows to the individual. Lots of tax the rich liberals are strangely in favor of the SALT deduction because it benefits them and reduces the local burden of state spending (which is mostly on services of credentialed professionals).

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That is a fair point, particularly on debt. While spending on income assistance type programs can expand near infinitely (as Dave mentions above), being constrained only by how much can be borrowed, that borrowing isn't free and is in fact quite expensive now in terms of interest and in the future as it is paid back.

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I don't think you really got Rob's argument on luxury beliefs, and this is why you keep talking about political outcomes when the book isn't about some grand theory of whether one vote really makes a difference.

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May 27·edited May 27

Your argument fails to take into account Islam as a major obstacle to assimilation to a liberal society. Why has Europe been so bad at assimilating Arab and Pakistani migrants? And isn't it likely that the US will fare similarly poorly if they adopt the unselective,mass immigration model Europe had with these immigrants? Among British Muslims, there were more extreme, illiberal views re. Charlie Hebdo among *younger* Muslims. If you want to assimilate people with v different, harmful and 'sticky' cultures you need to make sure they arrive in sufficiently low numbers that they can't form ghettos. And you need to make sure to be selective enough to exclude the most radical, illiberal and anti-West. You've always said that rights can be justly violated to prevent vastly worse consequences. Well, the US succumbing to Islamic totalitarianism seems vastly worse.

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Are you making the argument that religion limits your possibility of being a liberal? That is true of any religion and I didn’t see any Muslims trying to overthrow democracy on Jan 6 (completely illiberal). Christian nationalists are just as bad at assimilating to liberal societies. So yeah, religion and faith based cults are a problem, but they are not exclusive to one religion. This argument borders on prejudice.

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Thanks for the cartoon and the phrase "Don't believe in magic dirt, believe in magic culture." But I am very troubled by the numbers out of Sweden where the problem is lack of assimilation. Perhaps it would be easier to live with the lack of assimilation if was known that the murdering is being committed on fellow non-assimilators. Any statistics on who really is suffering?

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Do you think conservatives (because the idea seems to be popular with the right wing side) are basically using the idea of luxury beliefs to do left wing populism? That's why Rob blames the divorce and drug problems of the poor on "elite beliefs" instead of their own personal and moral failures.

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The poor used to have a lower level of divorce and drug abuse. What happened? Did their morals magically disapear?

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The social and legal policing reduced. Turns out the poor aren't good at making decisions. Surprise. Surprise. This is the cost of living in an individualistic society. You have a high average but a low floor.

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"The social and legal policing reduced. Turns out the poor aren't good at making decisions."

Which is Rob Henderson's point about luxury beliefs. Drug use and divorce can work out okay for rich/intelligent people, but are a disaster for the lower class.

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No. Drugs and divorce don't work out OK for anyone. As mentioned in the post the divorce rates are lower for higher income couples.

The poor just make dumb decisions on most metrics, one of which is divorce and drugs. The elites just don't spend their lives policing the poor any more because why should they?

BTW restrictions against divorce can also be considered a luxury belief because domestic violence is much more common in working class households. So is restrictions on abortion because an unwanted child might be manageable for a rich family but a disaster for the poor.

As I mentioned before this is just conservative populism. Apparently the elites' fault that the poor can't have a stable life because... Elites aren't policing them enough?? Like wtf? I thought America was an individualistic society.

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Charles Murray wrote whole books on “why should they”.

I could trot an argument about how societal decay is bad for elites too, or how these vices are bad for elites themselves in a different way, but people probably aren’t going to change their behavior because it would be the right thing to do if you were playing game a Civilization and this was some choice in a decision tree that gave you a buff in the long run. At the end of the day either “I sympathize with these people and care about their lives” has some real emotional significance to you or it doesn’t. If it does then Charles tries to offer and path he thinks would allow you to actualize that desire in a way that really helps. Luxury beliefs are a kind of cheap false path to acting on such empathy.

If you don’t have that desire his work is going to be of no interest. If one wishes to fake such empathy for social purposes luxury believes will work well.

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" Drugs and divorce don't work out OK for anyone."

They're not optimal, but often times the upper classes can experiment and it works out fine.

"BTW restrictions against divorce can also be considered a luxury belief because domestic violence is much more common in working class households."

Domestic violence and abuse of women and their children are much higher in divorced women than ones in a traditional marriage.

"Apparently the elites' fault that the poor can't have a stable life because... Elites aren't policing them enough?? Like wtf? I thought America was an individualistic society."

Yes, it was called nobless oblige. The founders didn't see the American enterprise as an individualistic one.

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What do you mean by traditional marriage exactly? Is there any evidence showing that domestic violence is less common when the wife is a stay at home mom? There is a probability of a stay at home putting up with more domestic violence because she has few outside options.

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It seems popular in some corners of the Internet to post videos of immigrants/refugees in various European and American cities doing such things as attacking random people on the street, getting into big brawls, or having rallies chanting anti-western-culture slogans. I have no idea how representative these things are; clearly they're selected for their outrage-provoking quality.

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I think you draw the criteria for self interested beliefs counting as luxury far too narrowly.

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Another benefit of a US with one billion people is that geopolitics becomes a solved problem.

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The defense of mass migration has been rubbish the whole time and is motivated reasoning in action.

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"There is no reason why the modern U.S. population could not grow as fast or faster. . . . Unless, I freely grant, immigrants and their descendants remain on welfare until the end of time. Fortunately, this is not what normally happens under the status quo."

What happens under the status quo is that everybody, native-born and immigrant alike, has their incentives seriously warped in destructive ways by the American welfare state even if they are able to work. Unfortunately, many of the conventional pro- and anti-open borders narratives miss this point.

The state-guaranteed system of "economic security" that was first fully implemented in the 1960s (the capstone of this system being Medicare) is that when one can't work (either because one has reached retirement or one is disabled), one can count on everyone else to pay for one's basic needs. One is incentivized to be a spendthrift and live it up now, not restrain their present consumption so they can save and invest to take personal responsibility for providing such security for oneself. Another effect of this is that the government's "safety net" makes one less reliant on informal social networks and on the good will of others, a tendency that has been reinforced by anti-discrimination/anti-hate laws.

Is it any surprise then that since the 1960s personal savings rates have plunged, and that the share of GDP devoted to government spending (especially Social Security and Medicare) has been growing at the expense of the share devoted to private investment? Likewise, is it any surprise that social cohesion is being undermined as individuals no longer feel compelled to assimilate to a common culture and language that facilitates social cooperation or to tolerate differences that perhaps aren't so important for cooperation?

Politically it is easier to blame the gradual deindustrialization of America and the decline of the American productive classes on an influxes of foreigners and foreign-made goods than to acknowledge the truth that Social Security and Medicare are consuming the labor and resource inputs needed to build and modernize capital goods. Politically it is easier to be corrupted by the monetary/financial status quo than to admit that while bank credit expansions based upon the creation of fiat dollars and fractional reserve dollar substitutes out of thin air may prevent a sovereign debt crisis and steadily increase capital good prices, it does not make up for the lack of real savings, nor does it prevent wasteful boom/bust cycles nor will it prevent a hyperinflationary collapse of the fiat dollar.

While one can't honestly blame foreigners for America's deindustrialization (as the anti-open borders rhetoric would have it), most people on the pro-open borders side have been slow to admit that the Ellis Island ideals of mutual tolerance and mutual assimilation (at least to the extent necessary for social cooperation to occur smoothly in a pluralistic society) aren't really all that compatible with state interventionism and welfarism. Intolerance, cultural inflexibility, and retreating into one's own "safe space" are quite costly beliefs whenever one's well-being depends on voluntary association and exchange with others, but they become luxury beliefs whenever the state insulates one from the consequences of not earning the good will of others with entitlements and offers one protection against private discrimination, and whenever the state actively intervenes to take sides in cultural conflicts. Immigration in such an interventionist/welfarist context can only accelerate the Balkanization and cultural disintegration of our society. The issue of the borders can only be properly addressed in a broader political context of rolling back entitlements, etc. and restoring a society based upon individual responsibility as well as individual liberty.

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