« On welfare incentives | Main | On centrist utopianism »

July 27, 2015


Dave Timoney

I think the reason for this particular cognitive dissonance is the same as the reason why we've still got the Parthenon marbles. If we gave them back, we'd be admitting that we shouldn't have taken them in the first place. If we had an open borders policy, we'd be admitting that the historic wealth accumulations of the country might not have been largely the result of our genius for manufacture and trade, or even the advantages of geography.

That a reluctance to concede this is a popular attitude, i.e. not just limited to the descendants of the exploiters in chief, reflects a fairly sophisticated understanding of our collective history, which the response to recent revelations about our historic ambivalence towards slavery would seem to support (i.e. ignore reparations; focus on slebs coming to terms with skeletons in the closet).

Steve M

The main reason for being against immigration is that one has a preference for ones own cultural category, and doesn't like having the area where it is prevalent curtailed, as usually seems to happen in places with relatively open borders. I imagine this is a stronger preference than any desire for social mobility across borders.


"If it's a 'scandal' that demography is destiny then immigration controls must be scandalous. So why don't people believe they are?"

1) Because, in Europe, they weren't originally introduced with the purpose of making demography destiny, but for completely unrelated purposes. Prior to 1914, one could freely travel to most European countries, including Britain, without even a passport. The modern system of passports and border controls was only introduced during World War I. Partly it had to do with the fear of foreign spies, but a more significant factor was arguably the introduction of mass conscription - which created a need to control emigration, not immigration.

2) Because, at the time the immigration controls were introduced, geography would still have been destiny even if demography wouldn't. Travel was namely so expensive that the cost of immigration from Zimbabwe would have been prohibitive. This is yet another reason why immigration controls didn't become associated with economic migration: there were other factors in place that would have prevented economic migration even in the controls' absence.

Just a theory.


"One possibility is that one might favour open borders in principle but believe that they are simply impractical"

Green Party policy tends to be along those lines: MG100 The Green Party's long-term global vision is of an international economic order where the relationship between regions is non-exploitative, each region is as self-reliant and economically self- sufficient as practicable and the quality of life (social, political, environmental, cultural and economic) is such that there is less urge to migrate. Logically, in order to move away from the current level of immigration controls, we must create a fairer world.

Churm Rincewind

I'm not sure why you think that "18th century people who thought they were devout Christians but who kept slaves" demonstrates a contradictory position.

Both the Old and New Testaments, and subsequent Christian theologians, accept slavery as a natural condition. Given the social, economic, and cultural situations of their times, they would, wouldn't they?

In the same way, we all think that we should retain the privileges of a wealthy society while disregarding the plight of the starving elsewhere. Unless there's anyone here who's sold their house in order to send the money to save lives overseas?

No, I thought not. But, as per this post, this is the same side of the coin as immigration controls.


"In the same way, we all think that we should retain the privileges of a wealthy society while disregarding the plight of the starving elsewhere. Unless there's anyone here who's sold their house in order to send the money to save lives overseas?"

1) Note that this argument is completely neutral about the motivations behind wanting a particular outcome. For instance, the argument shows equally well that a Ukipper who complains that there is too much immigration should shut up, unless he's already sold his house to send the money to people who would otherwise become economic immigrants to the UK. Oh, but now he will protest that closing the borders is an even better solution. Well then: he should shut up unless he's already sold his house to send the money to the austerity-ridden Home Office, earmarked towards improving border controls.

2) Bernard Williams writes in his essay "Humanitarianism and the Right to Intervene":

"I take it that the moral principle of rescue in everyday life goes something like this: (1) If X is in peril and (2) Y is saliently related to X's peril and (3) Y can hope to offer effective aid to X (4) at a cost to Y, which is not unreasonably high, Y ought to help X. [...] [But in world politics w]e are confronted with a catalogue of constant and recurrent disasters which clearly has parted company with the model of the moral principle of rescue, where the passing citizen finds himself unusually saliently related to an unexpected emergency. Continual disasters are the business of the rescue *services* [...]."

Chris Purnell

Gary Balance is from Zimbabwe. But then he is white, rich and an excellent sportsman. Being an excellent sportsman in the UK has materially benefitted him just as it would a poor black person. So our immigration policy pours privilege on the over-privileged and accurately reflects British society. Immigration policy is merely an extension of general social policy.

Churm Rincewind

Boursin: Well, no. A Ukipper who complains about excessive immigration is doing so on the basis that they are thereby disadvantaged. We can argue about whether this is true or not, but their position is consistent - they don't wish to share their current privileges.

So I don't quite understand your argument. Ukippers don't want to share their privileges, and one way of doing that is by restricting immigration. Or at least that's the way they see it.

It seems to me that the onus is on those who favour open borders to put their money where their mouth is.


One important reason people want to suppress immigration is the desire for supremacy and the feeling that the richer they get the poorer we get. This is also why people support imperialist intervention, they believe it maintains their privileged position.

People don't want to admit this as if they did it would be an open admission that they are certainly no better and possibly even worse than ISIS or Al Qaeda and those other groups we are told are barbaric.

Igor Belanov

Gary Ballance is white and rich, but not an excellent cricketer. Unfortunately he is an advert for YIP- there must be 20 batsmen in Yorkshire that are better than him.

Jason Phillips

Isn't resistance to immigration at least partly because people are actually AGAINST social mobility? Namely downward mobility for natives of wealthier countries.


"... their position is consistent - they don't wish to share their current privileges."

But simultaneously they also don't want to put up that much money to enable themselves to avoid being compelled to share them. That's the analogy with the non-house-selling do-gooders. Neither group puts money anywhere near mouth. And so we can mock one only to the extent to which we can mock the other.


Demography is also destiny because humans aren't fungible. Japanese are very different from Haitians (witness tsunami vs earthquake responses), Icelanders from Kikuyu, Russians from Brits.

Commenters like Churm talk about Brits "sharing their privilege" - the issue is that the forebears of the Brits created that privilege and passed it down to us. That 'privilege' is dependent on there being enough Brits around.

Swap 50% of the Brits for 50% of (say) of the DRC's or Pakistan's population, and watch that 'privilege' shrink. Indeed what has Chris been bemoaning over the last few posts but the narrowing life-chances of so many Brits of all colours?

(in fact Chris's post reminds me of the Guardian perennial "why do middle class kids go to the best state schools?")


All groups should be allowed an entry policy. If the policy is wrong Darwinism will act to make the group extinct. But, one work around is to maintain exclusionary rules but break the rules whenever you like and hope your not caught of if caught face lax enforcement.

For example, maybe I want to move in with you and your family. You no like it but too bad. I'm moving in anyways. Hopefully, You support social mobility in your household.

Please pass the remote. Don't make me come over and snatch it.

Ralph Musgrave

“If you support social mobility you must, logically, favour open borders.” False logic.

First, allowing half the population of Africa, Pakistan, etc into Europe does not solve the problem in that half the population of Africa and Pakistan is still left in Africa and Pakistan and thus doesn’t move upwards on the mobility scales.

Second, there are ways of assisting poorer countries other than having their entire population move to Europe: foreign aid, technical assistance, etc. Half the population of Africa and Pakistan now has a mobile phone. That improvement did not require the movement of one single migrant from there to Europe.


"They are like those 18th century people who thought they were devout Christians but who kept slaves."

No contradiction as the Bible is very clear that slavery is fine -- at least the Old Testament. It also indicates that you can sell yourself into slavery -- something which many modern day propertarians support (for example, Robert Nozick)


There are two fields, each with a herd of cows. One field is lush and verdant, and can support the cows indefinitely. The other field is increasingly barren and its herd is in dire straits.

Solution 1: The poor cows join the rich cows in the nicer field and enjoy a higher standard of living for a short while, until overpopulation makes the field barren. All the while, the rich cows are extremely resentful of their falling living standards. Society collapses, the streets become rivers of blood. There is barbecue.

Solution 2: The poor cows stay in their barren field and suffer, but the rich cows realise that the poor cows are held back by evil dictators and barbaric cultural practices, so they bomb the worst culprits and free the poor cows to advance themselves without nutters and fascists holding them back.

Solution 3: The poor cows blockade the pipe which drains water from their barren field toward the verdant one and demand fair payment for the resource. Following a few fights, the rich cows either kill the poor cows or start paying their way, allowing the poor cows to invest in their field and make it more lush.

Solution 4: The poor cows invade the verdant field and kill the rich cows. Years later, the verdant field lies barren and the cows' poor agricultural skills are exposed as the true problem.

Solutuion 5: The rich cows jump over the fence and help the poor cows with their agriculture, but make slow progress because the poor cows also happen to be corrupt in more obvious and damaging ways than the rich cows.

Churm Rincewind

Boursin: I completely agree. Ukippers are as contemptible as those who oppose immigration controls.


It depends on whether one believes in the nation state or not. It was a radical idea when it developed in the wake of the Black Death, but it has its advantages. If you believe in the nation state, you have a well defined in-group and can worry more about the welfare and problems of that state and its citizens than about the welfare and problems of every other person on earth. It's sort of like sending your mother a card on her birthday, rather than sending cards to every person on earth on his or her birthday. Yes, every one should get a card on his or her birthday, but there are advantages to sending one to one's own mother.

Igor Belanov

The major difference is that I've met my mother, whereas I have nothing more in common with Fred Bloggs in Bideford than someone on the other side of the world.

Many of the defenders of the 'imagined community' of the nation-state seem just as keen to exclude the poor of their 'own' country as that of Africa and Asia.


Chris has gone into fantasy la la land with this one. I believe in the premise of the Rawlsian lottery, not to the point of killing my tribe, way of life and culture off.

Laban and Staberinde are dead on here. The real problem is that open border types assume fungibility of human beings in talent, attitude and culture. Human beings are not alike at micro and certainly macro levels. We observe the same social forces everywhere with similar migration experiments. Always the same results. People in their political correctness are scrathing their heads or inventing still more novel explanations for why performance is terrible. Never acknowledging, humans have adapted for different geographical and social environments (which is my primary argument against racism - an adaptation to one environment does not mean its 'better' than another).

The other question exists as to whether these countries would be so open if the wealth holdings were reversed. Does Japan let in Indonesians and Fillipinos en masse?

It is our liberal nature in the end which got us this wealth. Ironically, due to nutters in the abolish borders camp, it will be the end of it.

Neil Wilson

You can only do it with countries that are at the same level of development that you are. So you would have open borders with other countries that implement a Job Guarantee and have National Health and National Education services, etc.

Otherwise you get an instant flood that your public systems cannot deal with.

So you would put visa restrictions in place against third world countries like the USA.

Additionally is it really the progressive stance that an advanced nation like the UK should steal all the skilled staff from the rest of the world? How are nations like Zimbabwe going to develop if the skilled staff have been poached by countries that can't be bothered training its own?

Isn't that a form of 'beggar thy neighbour' mercantilism.

So the problem with open borders are two fold. Development and improvement of the lot of others in the world should be done by encouraging development - via Marshall plan style foreign investment if necessary.

The comments to this entry are closed.

blogs I like

Blog powered by Typepad