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Enright on Caplan on Immigration, Part Trois

Summary:
I’ve posted twice now (here and here) on Sam Enright’s critique of my co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s case for open borders. I have two more points, one where I agree with an Enright critique and one where I disagree with an Enright compliment of Bryan. The critique I agree with is that Bryan’s analysis is too America-centric. This is what Bryan knows and this, plus Canadian immigration policy, is what I know. Together those two countries could easily take a few hundred million more people, as could western Europe. But it would be nice to see, in a book titled Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, a multi-country approach. Possibly there are economists and other scholars in Europe and Japan who could extend Bryan’s work. The implicit compliment of Bryan’s

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Enright on Caplan on Immigration, Part Trois

I’ve posted twice now (here and here) on Sam Enright’s critique of my co-blogger Bryan Caplan’s case for open borders.

I have two more points, one where I agree with an Enright critique and one where I disagree with an Enright compliment of Bryan.

The critique I agree with is that Bryan’s analysis is too America-centric. This is what Bryan knows and this, plus Canadian immigration policy, is what I know. Together those two countries could easily take a few hundred million more people, as could western Europe. But it would be nice to see, in a book titled Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration, a multi-country approach. Possibly there are economists and other scholars in Europe and Japan who could extend Bryan’s work.

The implicit compliment of Bryan’s work is in this paragraph from Enright’s critique:

In the US, a disproportionate amount of innovation comes from immigrants. More inventors immigrated to the US from 2000 to 2010 than to all other countries combined. Immigrants account for a quarter of total US invention and entrepreneurship. Maybe this is just because America selectively lets smart and innovative people move there. But maybe there are some agglomeration effects going on here specifically related to immigration? Immigration and clustering people together seems to have been key to the success of various intellectual hubs throughout history, like the Bay Area recently, Vienna in the 20th century, and Edinburgh in the 18th century. This is a ripe topic for progress studies to tackle. Aesthetically, I agree with Caplan’s choice not to talk about this much. People talking about all the “amazing contributions” made by a certain immigrant group often comes off as condescending, in much the same way as token engagement with other cultures might. Make the case for immigration from prosperity and freedom, or don’t make it at all!

The one criticism I had of Bryan’s book in my November 2019 review of his book was that he failed to make a closely related point. I wrote:

While few people would accuse Caplan of understating the benefits from immigration, I am one of those few. Immigrants start businesses at a rate that is twice that of native-born Americans. Among the main beneficiaries of such immigrant employees, therefore, are American workers. Yet nowhere in his book did I find mention of that fact. It’s possible, of course, that this overstates the benefits to native Americans; think of the Korean dry cleaner that largely employs other family members. Still, the odds are high that most of these employers employ some non-family and non-immigrant workers.

If a point in favor of immigration is both true and important, it should be made. Enright argues that making the point often comes off as condescending. I don’t see it. Complimenting people on their contributions seems like the opposite to me. If the formulation that bothers him is “amazing contributions,” that formulation can easily be changed to “large contributions.”

Also, Enright ends his compliment by writing:

Make the case for immigration from prosperity and freedom, or don’t make it at all!

Ok, but the more innovators we have, the more prosperous we get. So making the case based on prosperity would seem to require noting the role of immigrant innovators.

David Henderson
David R. Henderson (born November 21, 1950) is a Canadian-born American economist and author who moved to the United States in 1972 and became a U.S. citizen in 1986, serving on President Ronald Reagan's Council of Economic Advisers from 1982 to 1984.[1] A research fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution[2] since 1990, he took a teaching position with the Naval Postgraduate School in Monterey, California in 1984, and is now a full professor of economics.[3]

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