[Edited in the principle of epistemic charity]
Zach Weinersmith & Bryan Caplan have written a comic book called “Open Borders“, whose title is self-explanatory. They call for unlimited immigration to the developed world – in practice, to Europe & America, since no East Asian country will pay attention to this.
Before I get into this, let me state that I am sure that Weinersmith is a devoted husband and father, and I envy his productivity – SMBC updates every single day. I’m sure that Caplan probably is a nice person who helps little old ladies across the street.
However, when it comes to this book, I find I have to convict them of:
- and advocating something truly monstrous and wicked.
I am certain that they do this because they are certain they are doing right – and the ethical problems with this book are discussed below. I am sure they are motivated by the highest of motives and concern for suffering humanity. Unfortunately, motives do not change facts.
Hiding the truth
The basic problem is that the comic book format allows them to pitch extremely simplistic and even dishonest ideas and make them appear more reasonable than if they were just written in print. Take this from the start:
Got that? Immigration restriction is basically the same thing as Jim Crow in America or the Holocaust in Germany. Some points missed by W&C are that black people rather famously had no choice to immigrate to the United States, that they suffered the most appalling brutality and oppression for decades, and that German and European Jews were natives of the continent and of their nations.
Even if I believed in open borders, this would be outrageous. You simply cannot compare denying immigration to the worst oppression and betrayal of citizens by the governments of their nations.
I cannot legally move to China and become a citizen there. Funny, but I don’t feel this puts me on a continuum with someone being sent to Ausschwitz.
Immigrants != Immigrants
Perhaps the main flaw in the book is that it studiously avoids the fact that not all immigrants are alike. This reaches its absurd conclusion here:
This is obscene. The people divided from West Germany were not, excuse me, immigrants. They were our fellow countrymen and -women. Often they were family members. Sons, daughters, mothers, fathers who had been prevented from seeing each other for decades.
The two greatest moments of human liberation I have had the privilege of witnessing are the election of Nelson Mandela and the fall of the Berlin Wall. I don’t care to see it treated this flippantly.
If Weinersmith and Caplan cannot see the difference between Germans going to Germany, and, e.g., Syrian Muslims moving to Denmark or Sweden, what chance is there that they can tell the difference between different types of migrant and the effects that they have?
Weinersmith & Caplan argue that immigration is always good for the economy. As is pointed out elsewhere:
The book supports immigration by pointing to the fact that immigrants in the US perform well on a large number of measures such as overall fiscal effects, crime, etc. But of course the current immigrants in the US are extremely selective and unrepresentative. And you cannot conclude anything about the whole group by looking at a highly selected subset, just like you cannot make conclusions about a whole school by looking at just the Valedictorians.
Correct. The linked article notes that non-Western migrants in Denmark are a net-drain on the system.
Even “non-Western” is too vague. See the following report from the Bundesagentur fuer Arbeit. Three stories of three different immigrants summarize everything: the Armenian and the Nigerian promptly find work, the Middle Eastern Muslim requires costly retraining.
80% of ‘Syrian Refugees’ are completely unqualified. 75% of the “Syrian Refugees” are receiving unemployment benefits from the German taxpayer, with 44% being unemployed. Similarly, 44% of Afghans take unemployment benefits, while 26% are unemployed. Comparable unemployment for native Germans is 4.7%, and 12.2% for all other migrants.
If you look at the United Kingdom, you will easily find Indian Hindus and Sikhs doing extremely well, and keeping the NHS alive. Conversely, Muslim immigrants tend to do not so well.
The truth is that you don’t even need external sources to see that the flaws in Weinersmith & Caplan’s thesis.
Let us assume that this is true, that open borders would double global GDP. The developed world is about 8% of the global population. Under a complete open border scheme, and assuming this is all spread out evenly, you would see the populations of the developed countries to increase ten fold, and the total money to double. You are asking the populations of the developed world to take an 80% pay cut.
So, American? Listen to Caplan & Weinersmith and say goodbye to your current lifestyle, and get used to one more like Egypt, South Africa, or Indonesia. This is not even hinted at in the book.
It has been pointed out to me, by Mike White (send him some love) that I misconstrue the argument; the argument is that the global GDP would double, raising the mean per capita gdp from ~ USD 18,000 to USD 36,000, i.e. effectively making the whole planet first world. That’s a good point and a really powerful criticism. Many props to White for making it.
I still doubt it would work out this way: factories, mines, farms and the machinery of the poor world cannot be easily picked up and moved. There is also the wholly unaddressed problem of the lack of social mobility in the developed world, thanks to the power of the state (something addressed further below)]
That is, of course, the optimistic scenario, one that assumes that open borders don’t have all sorts of other deleterious effects that cause the economy to implode or lead to severe social unrest.
Here’s an example of how that might happen:
“We need immigrants to pay for our retirement benefits”.
Somehow, I get called a racist for objecting to this.
You think it is practical and moral to demand that poor people from the rest of the world come to your country to work mainly to pay for your golden years?
The way that that phrase has spread should give you pause. In America “Social Security” is causing massive discontent because it drains the young to care for the old. Do you care to imagine the consequences if you take away even ethnic social solidarity? Do you care to imagine what will happen if you have a bunch of old, rich, mainly white people feeding off the work of a bunch of young, poor, mainly non-white people? Does anyone see how this could go horribly wrong?
Spoiler alert, immigrants get old too. Caplan and Weinersmith admit this and say “Import more people”. This is the definition of a pyramid scheme, and we do know how those end up.
All of this is not mentioning automation and technological unemployment, and the forces that propelled Trump to power. You think those will get better or worse under open borders?
As bad as the economic arguments are, they are nothing compared with the cultural arguments.
Caplan & Weinersmith argue that we don’t need to worry about cultural differences, like FGM, Honor Killings, etc. All of those will be solved by magic.
The problem here, the one that Caplan and Weinersmith completely evade, is that immigrants have their culture too. So, the question becomes, which culture has the stronger magic?
Well, we see that the leaders of Western culture spend most their time telling everyone how crap and lousy Western culture is. Meanwhile my experience of just about any non-Western migrant is that he holds a strong attachment to his native culture and is not shy about saying so. That suggests that migrants have an edge over Westerners here.
Sometimes this is a good thing. For example, Hindus and Sikhs in Britain have far lower crime rate than native whites (for Hindus it’s a sixth, for Sikhs, a third), and the crimes they do commit tend to be white collar, rather than violent.
On the other hand, certain other communities behave… less well.
One point that needs addressing is about America and the so-called “emerging Democratic majority”, i.e. that since non-white immigrants tend to vote largely for the U.S. Democratic party, the Republicans will be completely finished in a decade or two, never again able to win any election.
Here’s the response to that concern:
If you want to see the problem with this, look at South Africa. The African National Congress has a far nobler history and pedigree than the U.S. Democratic party. Yet it has been a disaster for modern South Africa, because it is completely unaccountable.
The ANC, due to its role in the anti-Apartheid struggle, can count on a supermajority in every election. So there is no way for voters to hold it to account, and the most grotesque corruption and failure go unpunished. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu has called the ANC regime “worse than apartheid“.
If an unchangeable electoral majority can do this to the party of Nelson Mandela, what will it do to the party of Bill Clinton and George Wallace? What would be the consequences of having the largest minority in the United States more or less permanently disenfranchised, and yet controlling the majority of the wealth? Does this sound like a scenario with a happy ending?
If you thought you were going to get to the end of this article without me bringing up Islam, you haven’t been paying attention. Caplan & Weinersmith’s attitude is that Islam is no big deal.
Did you know that America never had a problem with racism? All the stuff you might have read about lynching was way overblown. Lynching was not that bad. At it’s worst you saw maybe about a hundred black people killed a year. What’s that compared to the tens or even hundreds of thousands of regular murders?
Even the Ku Klux Klan wasn’t such a big deal! If you had six to eight million klansmen, but only a hundred or so lynchings, then the majority of klansmen were no problem whatever. What’s all this anti-racist prejudice we keep hearing?
The flaw in the preceding two sarcastic paragraphs and in the argument made by Caplan & Weinersmith is that terrorism is not its own end. Terrorism exists to advance an agenda. In the case of the Klan, racist terrorism was to cow black people and keep them subdued. In the case of jihadis, islamic terrorism is to cow Infidels and keep them subdued. In both cases, the violence is only the most dramatic part of a much larger system of dehumanization and intimidation.
From my Anti-Islam F.A.Q:
Both types of terrorism have been very, very effective in achieving their aim.
I have to remind people that Caplan & Weinersmith are not just wrong, they are dishonest. Especially on this subject. Zach Weinersmith responds to complimentary reviews of his book on twitter. On the other hand, he has always failed to respond to my challenge to do one, simple thing that could prove his thesis.
“Draw some cartoons that are as mocking of Muhammad as the ones he regularly draws of Christ are.”
Funny thing, he never, ever responds to that.
It’s not that he doesn’t know about this challenge. He addressed it here.
I want to say explicitly that avoiding Islam has nothing to do with the idiocy of the Danish cartoon censorship a few years back. There are a number of webcomics (see: Jesus and Mo) that mock Islam and Mohammed on a daily basis, none of whose authors are in any great deal of trouble for it.
If you’ll believe that, you’ll believe anything. Question: who draws Jesus and Mo? It’s kind of hard to find out. You see, when the cartoonist was interviewed, for some reason the BBC decided to do this:
Is there anyone sentient who thinks that this concealment is because of “Jesus” in his cartoons?
Let’s get real: Zach Weinersmith doesn’t dare cartoon Muhammad because he knows damn well that, at best, he and his family would need to spend the rest of their lives in witness protection, a la Molly Norris.
I can forgive fear and even self-censorship – e.g. Penn Jillette saying that he and Teller will never criticise Islam because they have families. I cannot forgive lies about it, let alone imputing the worst motives to others.
Here’s another panel that underlines what I am talking about:
That’s their depiction of those who have less than lovely views. In reality, the people who are going “freedom go to hell” look a little different:
As Sam Harris has observes:
The freedom to think out loud on certain topics, without fear of being hounded into hiding or killed, has already been lost.
There is a good reason why freedom of speech is the most important freeedom. Once it goes, all other sorts of freedoms tend to go with it. Muslim fanatics are pretty much free to do as they please in Europe.
…or to murder girls for ‘honour’…
…or have sexually assault native women…
…or to mutilate little girls...
…the result is that Islamic values take over and drives out the native culture. Whose culture is really magic here?
Just to really rub it in, the evidence is that second and later generations of Muslims are less liberal and tolerant than their first generation parents.
I can find no evidence that either Caplan or Weinersmith ever address any of this. I am not surprised. After years of pounding this thankless sod, I have learned that those most loud about proclaiming how our culture is, like, totally magical, are the ones who do absolutely nothing to defend it.
In fact, all of this suggests that we are wrong to talk about ‘immigration’ at all when it comes to Islam. When people move to another country and are determined to integrate, adopt its ways and become part of it, that is called immigration. When people move to another country and are determined to reshape it in the image of their values and culture, that is called colonization.
This is quite explicitly acknowledged, and not by minor figures. Follow the link and you see that Erdogan is openly boasting that the ‘refugees’ are his way of completing the Islamic conquest of Europe.
Evasions and dishonesty
Once more: the problem with Caplan & Weinersmith is not just that they are wrong, but that they are dishonest. Here’s Weinersmith jeering on twitter:
Funny how he doesn’t seem to want to look at France…
Again, please feel free to go to that twitter thread and notice how he is happy to respond to anyone giving him praise, and does not answer one single factual criticism.
Caplan is no better. Here he is saying how he saw nothing bad in Malaysia. Why, teens are going hand in hand! Kissing! Dressing as they please!
And this is consistent with Islam worldwide!
And it is rated as one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world!
And you can be arrested for blasphemy!
This is typical of Caplan’s approach – he goes somewhere on holiday, hangs around the nice bits, and goes back home to say that everything is tickety-boo.
Here he is about France:
2. Predictions that France is going to be taken over by Islam look largely fanciful. Admittedly, I didn’t hang out in ethno-religious enclaves. But I haven’t been to France in seven years, and it didn’t seem any more Islamic than the last time I was there.
He goes to France for the first time in seven years, avoids les banileus or any place where the Islamization is too obvious for words, and let’s us know that it’s fine.
He could have spoken to, or read, Samira Bellil about the ritual gang-rape that is an established part of France’s Muslim ghettos. He could have reflected on how blasphemy is once more a crime. He could have looked at any of the stories reported here – but that would involve facing hard facts, and, anyway, if he mentioned any of that, he’d be out of his professorship before the pixels hit your screen.
His brilliant proof that he’s right is that he’s made a bet that neither the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, or Sweden will officially ban apostasy before 2030. If this is to be taken seriously, it means he labors under the delusion that Islamization will happen by Islamic parties winning democratic elections and passing laws.
That’s not how this works. There are many parts of this planet where the official government law is irrelevant. What matters is what the local enforcers say; a government that doesn’t have an effective monopoly on violence isn’t really a government at all. So, in the same way that Muslims have managed to establish the death penalty for blasphemy throughout Europe, they are doing the same thing for apostasy.
This doesn’t mean we’ll get a final Eurabian night, mind you. I’ve written repeatedly that I don’t think we will see mass Islamization of Europe – because Europeans will not let it get to that point. I think that if the profoundly wicked and stupid advice of Caplan & Weinersmith is followed, we will see a massive backlash that leads to continent wide civil war.
Caplan’s attitude is “Backlash? What backlash?”
Excuse me? Have you seen the parties on the rise in Europe? Have you seen this guy?
I’ve pointed this out before, and I will keep doing so: what motivated Breivik to kill was that he had learned killing is effective. Seeing how Westerners, in particular in the media and the government, were prepared to knuckle under to jihadist violence, he thought, “Hey, I can get myself a piece of that action!” Do you seriously think he’ll be the last?
If you’ve got the stomach for it, you can read Caplan is going on about how great he is:
I’ve been blogging research and arguments about immigration for over fifteen years. The book has about three hundred references. Nor have I kept myself in a pro-immigration Bubble. I’ve done many formal debates on immigration, not to mention face-to-face arguments and social media. I am personally close with several smart people who oppose even existing levels of immigration, including my own father.
Someone really needs to learn that “If you got t’say y’are, you probably ain’t.”
Regardless of how great Caplan thinks he is, here are some books that aren’t mentioned or addressed in Open Borders:
- Eurabia: the Euro-Arab Axis, by Bat Ye’or
- The Strange Death of Europe, by Douglas Murray
- Reflections on the Revolution in Europe, by Christopher Caldwell
- America Alone, America Alone by Mark Steyn
- While Europe Slept, by Bruce Bawer
- The Force of Reason, by Oriana Fallaci
- Londonistan, by Melanie Phillips
There might be arguments against all of these books. The point is that Caplan doesn’t even try to make them. He just plays from a very selected and restricted set of documents, all the while informing us that he doesn’t live in a bubble. Excuse me, sunshine, but we’ll be the judge of that.
It is not on, if you are discussing a subject of such magnitude, to evade all arguments and facts that run counter to your case.
The Ethics of Immigration
As mentioned, I’m sure that Caplan & Weinersmith are perfectly nice and decent people, and yet, as we’ve seen, they are flat out dishonest here, completely evading any and all arguments that might cause them any trouble. Why?
People are not driven by facts or self interest as much as they are driven by what they believe is ethical. When you see people wilfully blind to the truth and pursuing some self-destructive agenda, it may be stupidity, or it may be cowardice, but most often it is because they think it is right.
The moral argument is everything.
The moral argument made for immigration by Caplan & Weinersmith is that every human being has the same rights. Why should someone born on the different side of a man-made line have different rights? If someone born in Bangladesh can take a job in Philadelphia, why shouldn’t he, any more than someone born in New York could?
This argument has a lot of force, and it takes a while to see what is wrong with this. You need to start by asking what nations are. Or more broadly, what communities are, what moral purpose they serve. Why do people band together, rather than all of us going our own way?
Trade and specialisation is part of it, sure, but communities formed long before the advantages of those were clear. In fact, in more primitive states, community bonds are usually much stronger than in our modern world. So: what purpose do they serve?
Only one: mutual protection. There is safety in numbers. The first law of the jungle is: if you want to live, join a gang.
Imagine that you and I are thrown into a jungle setting. We stand a much better chance of making it if we band together. I’ve got your back when the lion attacks you, and you have mine when it attacks me. We are both safer.
But suppose we encounter a third party, who wants to join us, and insists that we protect him from attack, but refuses to risk himself defending us when either of us are attacked. Seems good? Obviously, such a person can’t be tolerated. So here is the second law of the jungle: freeloaders must be cast out.
But wait. What if he argues that we are obliged to defend him because he has the right not to be attacked? Isn’t casting him out a violation of his rights? How does the treasured doctrine of individual rights survive this challenge? The key is that while rights may be automatic and inalienable, their protection is not. Protection can only be bought with protection, through mutual assistance. There is no other way to preserve or practice individual rights; else, one would have to say that any freeloader has the right to demand that others fight, kill, and perhaps die in defense of him.
Not only is casting out freeloaders justified, it is fundamentally immoral not to do so.
Okay, you say, that’s all very well back in the stone age. We’re not living in the stone age anymore. Hasn’t modernity done away with such considerations?
Let’s imagine a second scenario. Imagine a parallel world in which a prosperous, predominantly black nation decides to follow the Caplan & Weinersmith line and opens its borders. At first all goes well, people from all the world stream into this black republic.
Then they start taking in immigrants and refugees from the Confederacy.
At first it all goes well. Then the native citizens of this republic start noticing more and more trouble from the Confederates. Reports of secret meetings in Churches and beer halls, in which the most nakedly racist language is used. Acts of terrorism and intimidation. Cross burnings. Lynchings. Even a local branch of the KKK shows up. Polls find that the immigrant Confederates have horrible views, and that many of them are boasting that, just as soon as their numbers get high enough, they’ll take over and put the natives in chains, just as their god intended.
Would it be so wrong, would it be racist, for the natives to say “Wait one second. We get on with people from just about anywhere, but if these Confederates are going to behave this way, after all the generosity and decency we’ve shown them, they can get the hell out.”?
This is exactly the situation faced by Europeans as a result of the Muslim influx.
Isn’t this horribly intolerant? Depends what you mean by “tolerant”. If you take what John Locke meant when he coined the term, and formulated the ideal, in this A Letter Concerning Toleration. What Locke meant was that tolerance should be extended to all the different Protestant sects, but not, absolutely not, towards Catholics.
Isn’t that hypocritical? Call it what you want. What Locke saw, very clearly, was that toleration of Catholicism at that point in time would mean the total death of all tolerance, because the Catholic church was large and strong enough to use that toleration as a vehicle of imperialism, and ultimately erase all tolerance. Excluding Catholicism at that moment in time was an essential precondition to allowing any tolerance whatsoever.
So, Locke would have thought you were nuts to allow mass Islamic immigration. He would have responded to the drivel about “great restaurants” as follows:
What about individual rights? Here it is worth taking a careful look at what the man who gave us the idea, Thomas Paine, had to say. If you read his Rights of Man you’ll see that he was very much aware of the free-rider problem. He was asked, effectively, “You write a lot about rights, but what about duties? Protection isn’t free; it costs money at a minimum, and lives at the most.”
Paine’s answer was simple: A Bill of Rights is also a Prescription of Duties. If you claim a certain right, you have the duty to defend that right for others who are part of the same body-politic as you are. If you want freedom of speech, you are obliged to defend it for others in the same society. Not passively accept it, but actively defend it.
So by putting these two thinkers together, we can get the moral criterion for allowing immigration: it should only be allowed for those who are willing to defend the rights of those who are already part of that society.
I know, I know: start talking about excluding and even ejecting and soon you are sounding like a certain crazy German with a weird moustache:
Good thing no one listened to him, huh?
If the historical parallel seems far-fetched, I remember reading a similar proposal that said that if Germany expelled all the neo-Nazis in the country, we would save a hundred million euros annually in counter-terrorism costs. Can someone please explain why the German taxpayer should pay a hundred million annual for the privilege of hosting such types? Please make the obvious analogy.
What about Infidel immigration?
Okay, so Islamic immigration is a total disaster, and a profoundly immoral one. What about Infidel immigration?
Here I have to invoke, of all people, Karl Marx, and the one thing he got dead right. What made Marx unique among all the advocates of socialism was his whole sale condemnation of Utopian fantasy, or ‘dreamery’. What he argued was that dreamery isn’t cute or nice or impractical, but immoral – if your visions of a better world do not take the form of practical plans that can take a hold in reality, at best they will divert scarce resources from where they can do actual good. At worst, those dreams will lead to disaster.
Even on the subject of Infidels Only Immigration, I have to convict both Caplan & Weinersmith of the charge of dreamery. To have large scale immigration would still require:
- Fluid societies with high social mobility, so that immigrants are able to move up the ladder and never feel like they are stuck at the bottom. In practice, this means a very free market and capitalist one.
- A strong sense of national identity, so that immigrants have something to assimilate to. Without building the basic sense of “we are all on the same team”, you end up with identity-politics and the legalized civil war we have today. John Quincy Adams said of European immigrants to America “They must cast off their European skin, never to resume it.”
Those are the minimum requirements for a society to absorb high levels of immigration without succumbing to disaster. As you can see, they require a fairly radical reform of current first-world nations.
A reform that Caplan & Weinersmith never mention. If they were calling on Western nations to reform themselves to the point that they were fit for mass immigration, that would be one thing. What they have done instead is a book that is nothing more than a license to assume a position that costs its holder nothing and demands nothing. Don’t worry about changing things in the world, or the many challenges involved, just reassure yourself that you are a really good person because you believe in Open Borders! Not like those nasty people who believe differently.
This is what is so repellent about such dreamery. It’s subordinating reality to fantasy. It is like the high school kid who says that he will be a better writer than Proust because he intends his book to be better than In Search of Lost Time.
What’s so wrong with cultural conservatism?
One final thing I should ask is that even if all the foregoing were addressed – why is it so bad to want to preserve cultures and civilizations that have existed for hundreds and even thousands of years? What’s so bad about this guy?
Nkrumah went on to clarify:
I do not believe in racialism and tribalism. The concept ‘Africa for the Africans’ does not mean that other races are excluded from it. No! it only means that Africans shall and must govern themselves in their own countries without imperialist and foreign impositions; but people of other races can remain on African soil, carry on their legitimate avocations and live on terms of peace, friendship and equality with Africans on their own soil.
I think it is clear that Nkrumah would have considered it monstrous to suggest that Africans should become a minority in their own continent.
What’s so wrong about that attitude?
Even people who are otherwise open-borders get this argument, even if they don’t always follow through on the implications
The BBC to the contrary, there are quite a few other indigenous peoples in Europe. Why should their concerns be of less value than those of the Sami?
It isn’t that you can’t find a counter-argument – e.g., that the humanitarian costs outweigh this – but the question isn’t even addressed by Caplan & Weinersmith.
“Open Borders” is selling really well, and it’s fairly clear that the reason it is doing so is that it is telling its readers what they want to hear, and does not ask any hard questions, and certainly asks nothing of the readers.
This worries me. This sort of attitude has pushed much of the Western world towards a state where we have a choice between bad and worse, and if this goes on, between really bad and apocalyptically bad. Nor is this a matter of innocent error, it is a matter of Caplan and Weinersmith deliberately avoiding reality when reality doesn’t suit. That makes this book wrong, dishonest, and profoundly immoral.
P.S.: My alternative
Here is what I think a sane immigration prescription would look like:
- Total shut down of all Muslim immigration to Infidel states;
- Priority to be placed on all Infidel refugees fleeing persecution – Hindus from Pakistan, Yazidi from the Middle East, Christians from Northern Africa, all should be welcomed with open arms. Also any apostates, of which there are many.
- Next, other infidel immigration should be allowed, but it should be spread out to take from as many different groups as possible, to avoid the problem in the United States, where one has a large hispanic population versus the white majority (and sometimes the black too). If you have many different, smaller groups, assimilation is easier. It should also select across the spectrum of education and earning power, so one does not end up with resentments between a predominantly poor immigrant population and a predominantly rich native population.
- Removal as much as possible the government control of the economy; emphasize apprenticeships and other ways of gaining qualifications that let newcomers quickly join the workforce and society.
- Strong international institutions that provide aid where we can. If we cannot help the world’s poorest through mass immigration, we can certainly help in other ways. One of the main things should be the dismantling of all subsidies and trade-barriers.