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July 26, 2018



That strikes me as a weak argument. Surely the major argument against that is that it gives the receiving individual state - and the receiving state's citizens - a pretty much unlimited liability to pay/provide resources for the welfare of the poor of the world. I think his argument only makes sense if there were no states at all. Put the analogy in a slightly different way: within this country I can move wherever I like, if I can find a place to rent or buy. I cannot go wherever I please and build my own place, still less can I go and expect someone else to build a house for me in the place I would like.

I just don't get this.


"Some new neighbours recently moved in next door to me."

I think your analogy gives the game away. I order to live next door to you one must assume they have the means to afford the living costs and other costs.

You cannot look at freedom of migration without regard to other rights. Are you seriously going to extend complete freedom of movement to anyone to come here and then turn them away from hospitals, turn their children away from school, deny them the right to social housing? that neither works in humanitarian terms or in terms of a peaceful civil society. But allow everyone those rights and you will find willingness to pay taxes to fund public services disappearing very quickly.

Finally, isn't giving people the right to escape nasty regimes a moral hazard? Doesn't that give a regime the right to encourage people it doesn't like to leave? Citizen of everywhere, citizen of nowhere.


Well, it wasn't always so:

In one sense, it has unified the ethnic whites on a single issue-blocking the movement of the blacks and Latins into white neighborhoods. But, at another level, the rapid growth of the black and Latin populations and the steady spread of the black and Latin ghettos have opened a wide chasm within the city's body politic between the black and Latin, and the white populations of the city.


In 1963, when a black family moved into Bridgeport, they found their furniture and belongings piled up on the sidewalk by their newly found unfriendly neighbors. They left and have not come back.
In 1965 black comedian Dick Gregory led a group of black picketers past Daley's house for several nights, nearly precipitating a race riot. They, too, left, and have not come back.
But the specter of penetration and inundation by the surrounding black community still hangs over beleaguered and encircled Bridgeport, as well as over the nearby communities of New City and McKinley Park.

Dave Timoney

I've not read the book, so I may be doing Chris Bertram a disservice, but his title begs a broader question by assuming that states can possess "rights" as opposed to merely exercising powers (whether democratically delegated or not).

This recasts the historically contingent formation of a state, and the associated process by which its citizenry invest it with power, as a matter of universal principle, which leads to the notion of competing rights - the state vs the individual - and an obvious ideological frame (I'm assuming Bertram is sympathetic to the individual, but then so are libertarians, many of whom have a blind-spot on migration).

It also produces a false commensurability. For example, the demand made of various individuals that they should "acknowledge the state of Israel's right to exist". State recognition is a practice of international law. Only another state can recognise a state. For me to recognise the right of the Republic of France to exist is meaningless, both because I'm not a state and international law recognises no "right to exist".

Where this becomes relevant to migration is that the issue is presented as a conflict between the individual and the state, even though migration law is determined by state-to-state agreement (or its absence). That migration is actually a matter of trade has become more apparent with Brexit, though the government's belief that it can do a deal with India without increasing visas suggests that acknowledgment of this reality will be deferred as long as possible.


"He argues that if we were behind a Rawlsian-style “veil of ignorance” we wouldn’t agree to draconian restrictions of free movement as they might trap us into horribly oppressive governments or condemn us to a life of poverty:"

Amusingly (if you're a liberal) the outcome of removing these draconian restrictions is likely universal oppression and poverty - and no base from which to extend the unprecedented achievements of the western working class.

I'm fairly certain that this is to Mr. Bertram a feature rather than a bug.


The contradiction to me is straightforward. You can either have a democracy or you can have open borders. No polity is going to vote for increased competition for scarce resources, be they schools, apartments or health care.

And in an era of limits to growth and scarce resources, these limits are now swaying elections.

Steven Clarke

Your acceptance of Kantian universalism ignores the possibility that morality changes with scale.

I have moral obligations to my family which do not apply outside of it. Similarly, perhaps we can employ a double standard and say different rules apply within a nation to those outside of it.

As much as it may be regrettable (from an abstract, philosophical view) that these different standards apply at different scales, it's how the world seems to work and I'm not sure how it would be if we were to "act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law."


The conversation takes place in the context of a nation having the rights to exclude those from outside. But if a nation doesn't have that right, can other nations act to force that nation to take immigrants? Eg can Turkey force Greece to accept refugees passing through Turkey?


A person moving into the house next you imposes no additional cost on you. An immigrant who moves into a country and does not contribute more in tax than he takes out in State services/benefits imposes a cost on all the other inhabitants of that country.

So if you had to pay your neighbour a sum of money each month if his income did not meet a certain level I think you might be a bit more desirous of having some control over who moved in next door.


Chris, your thought experiment with new neighbours moving in assumes your old neighbours also move out. In other words, net migration is zero. I'm bound to point out that we have laws against over-occupation, eg: HMOs.

I buy the broad economic argument for net immigration, but I worry that while nobody's prosperity is threatened by a few more computer scientists, precarious gig workers and tradespeople might feel greater price pressures.

I think an arbitrary net migration target is a nonsense, but I think we'd be foolish to operate weak border security. Remember when Blunkett admitted he had no idea how many people overstayed their visas? I'd like the apparatus of the State to function well, irrespective of the prevailing policy or target.

Finally, I worry that central and local government has been quite bad at scaling public services to meet the needs of migrants. I'd argue this is a mix of incompetence and cost-cutting - but the effect has surely been to give the public quite reasonable reservations about the ability of their communities to absorb significant migration.


The rights a group have over individuals is part of the endowment those individuals have bestowed on it. All those investments in education, health, infrastructure, governance, institutions, law, that make it what it is. This is the equity citizens own in their country. Now imagine all these were financed with 100% debt with the proceeds and debt both distributed among them. Anyone that could then pay the taxes necessary to fund those could then be welcomed. Or do you want no say whether a factory, sewage treatment plant, or pig farm is built next door? Whether slums are generated? You have much more power than you might admit.

Mike W

Thanks. Extending the Rawelsian veil of ignorance from a society to all societies on the planet is interesting. But such sets of rights, at the level of all societies, would have to be agreed by all in advance too.

Moreover, theses wider, planet wide 'veil of ignorance' rules might not actually include the right to escape from state a to state b as Bertram assumes.

It might be agreed that the deeper right held under the veil, is the right for all citizens to overthrow and revolt against unjust masters in any one given state. We would all certainly ask for this in advance. And that states outside the revolt area may not go to the aid of the state facing this just revolution.Which may then preclude allowing emigration to reduce effective revolutionary activity. Come on Chris your the Maxist :)


"Put the analogy in a slightly different way: within this country I can move wherever I like, if I can find a place to rent or buy."

This is not true, as a Brit you have the right to move to anywhere in the EU

"I cannot go wherever I please and build my own place, still less can I go and expect someone else to build a house for me in the place I would like."

This looks like sheer hypocrisy given the number of countries that Britain has invaded far outweighs the number it hasn't

Patrick Kirk

"Claims of right, in order to be other than mere assertions of power against others, have to be justifiable to everyone…nobody should simply impose their will on someone else unilaterally."

This means that democracy is wrong as it involved the mjority imposing taxes on the minority.


"This is not true, as a Brit you have the right to move to anywhere in the EU".
- Sure as a result of inter-state agreements. The point is not everywhere and not by the "rights" of individuals worldwide.

"This looks like sheer hypocrisy given the number of countries that Britain has invaded far outweighs the number it hasn't"
- I can't see the relevance, unless you are arguing that countries have a right to invade others and this therefore gives individuals a right to - what? - invade? Of course, in your analogy, the host nation is entitled to expel and or kill them if it can. Is that the argument you wish to make?

Arthur Murray

How far does someone have to come to be an "immigrant"?
1200 years ago Wessex presumably viewed any Northumbrians coming in as "immigrants".
And yet somehow the island of Britain evolved so that its internal borders became very porous and allowed free movement of all Britons around Britain.
Because transport improved ? And as people moved around more they realised that the people across the river weren't so different from them and were no longer "foreign"?


The ultimate irony being that an borderless world would descend either into the Hobbsian free for all that the Left constantly wave in the face of libertarians, or a fascist dictatorship. Democracy and the idea of collective action via taxation and some sort of redistribution of wealth would be destroyed instantly by borderless countries. What welfare state can survive infinite demands on its budget and the refusal of those paying to contribute anymore?

Anyone suggesting this sort of nonsense either is an idiot, or has an agenda to destroy Western society.

Ralph Musgrave

Let in a big enough number of Muslims and Africans to Britain, and there's a good chance that turns Britain into something resembling the Islamic part of Nigeria: i.e. a shithole, to use Trump's sophisticated terminology.

That strikes me as an entirely valid reason to limit immigration.


Ralph hits his nail on it's head one more time.
No other nails are valid in his world.


@ David - what nails do you have in your world?


The "a neighbour leaves and is replaced by another neighbour" example is cleverly constructed to be sure that the move has no net cost.

But let's imagine that a pig farm or a toxic dump wanted to "immigrate" to be neighbours; there is a lot of NYMBYsm around, and lots of zoning regulations, precisely to prevent the "immigration" of undesirables.

Conversely consider knowing that you and other 2 people will be applying for a job at the 3 neighbourhood pubs, versus the same plus 3 new neighbours "immigrating" to the area and applying to the same jobs.

That is: in practice there are often rents of position in living in a specific area and it is really easy for intellectually honest people to find many examples of those as reasons why the incumbents in that area might not want to share them for free with "immigrants".

Just as it is very easy for intellectually honest people like our blogger to state the real reason to support immigration as in "migrants from Tonga to New Zealand, for example, earn three times as much as comparable people remaining in Tonga".
But some people deny that this often transfers income from relatively rich native incumbents, for example paid £10 an hour, to extremely poor "immigrants", living on £2 per hour, and willing to work for £6 per hour.
To me it seems that our blogger claims that in such a situation the native incumbent will never be replaced by the "immigrants" at £6 per hour, and that their wage won't fall from £10 to £6 per house, but that turnover will simply expand suitably to result in pay of £10+£6 per hour. Amazing optimism that many don't share.


«for most of our history, humans have not considered themselves defined by nationality.»

They were defined by which lordly family they were the property of, and those lordly families were pretty ferociously territorial and jealous of other lordly families muscling in on their "protection" racket area.

Conversely in semi-democratic city-states in both ancient Greece, Rome, Italy etc., people very much defined themselves by their nationality.


«Anyone that could then pay the taxes necessary to fund those could then be welcomed.»

Do you want to deny citizenship to the children of native citizens, until those children can find the money to buy their share of «the equity citizens own in their country»?
Why should the children of citizens get a share of that equity for free at the expense of all citizens, while other people should have to pay for it?


«turnover will simply expand suitably to result in pay of £10+£6 per hour.»

Put another way our blogger seems to me to argue that the "so called Say's Law" is fully operative but only applies to jobs on median and below median wages, so that an expanded supply of workers for those jobs results solely in an expansion of the demand of labour for the entire amount of the new supply, and not in any partial glut of labour, or in a fall in the price of labour.


Chris, you seem to be ignoring two things you normally, and I think rightly, apply -

1. Oakshot-ian conservatism
2. Managing risk in an uncertain world


@ D. Yes, I am ignoring those. There are many possible prudential reasons why we might want to limit immigration. Bertram's book, however, poses the question: why should these reasons outweigh the massive interest non-residents have in a right to migrate? Why should a moderate benefit to us of migration controls (assuming one to exist) outweigh a massive cost to outsiders?


«Why should a moderate benefit to us of migration controls (assuming one to exist) outweigh a massive cost to outsiders?»

Maybe that is an *average* moderate benefit; for some citizens the benefits of lower immigration are huge, but it is hard to predict whether a particular person will enjoy them.

That is: if a minority will lose their jobs or will have big cuts to their pay because of immigration, it may be hard to know in advance which ones will be in that minority, and so most will vote oakshottily, for the prudential principle.

If it were known in advance then the majority of voters, knowing they would not be those negatively affected by immigration, and might benefit from lower wages and higher unemployment, might well vote to screw the minority affected negatively by immigration.

But this type of arguments requires discussing the impact on the distribution of income of policy on immigration, and real Economics don't do that.


«Why should a moderate benefit to us of migration controls (assuming one to exist) outweigh a massive cost to outsiders?»

BTW our blogger argues here not using a "principles" approach but a calculus of utility one.

Because on the plane of principles our blogger and Bertram's argument is not objectionable, and applies to a lot of things, not just immigration: if it is wrong denying the poorest billions of Africa and Asia the right to live and work in the UK, thus benefiting from the higher capital-people ratio of the UK, for example it is even more wrong to deny them access to the NHS, free at the point of use, because surely health is even more important than jobs, and denying free medical help to the poorest and sickest around the world can be considered monstrous.

Also if we go back to utilitarian calculus, there is a well known result of welfare political economy that the welfare-maxizing tax is 100% above a low threshold. Then perhaps UK taxes should add up to 100% above £20,000 per year, and we should use the proceeds to save the lives of millions of the poorest in Asia and Africa, and build massive amount of capital there to improve their capital-people ratio.

Because if frontiers should not exist as to living and working in a place, they should not exist as to fiscal and welfare too.


One thing that surprised me is that prior to 1905 anyone could come to UK and stay. They just arrived on a boat and made their way in life. At the height of Empire you would think that the borders would be manned to keep any invaders and freeloaders upon our wealth away. Of course the reality was that conditions for working people was appalling and the more that came the cheaper they were to hire with working benefits very much in their infancy.

Although some means of controlling foreign visitors to the United Kingdom existed before 1905, modern immigration border controls as now understood originated then. Although an Alien Act was passed in 1793 and remained in force to some extent or other until 1836, there were no controls between then and 1905 barring a very loosely policed system of registration on entry.

It has been the same shambles ever since. In 2005 it was announced that the Government, at last, was to introduce a computerised database system to log people in and out of UK. In 2018 nothing has happened and there is no funding for anything to happen. We are supposed to 'control our borders' in March 2109, whatever that means.

Anyone can fly into UK on a tourist visa and decide not go home. Illegal aliens are estimated to have risen to 1.4M. EU rules allow UK to deport any EU citizens without means of support - we cannot, as no one knows who or where they are.

It seems that counties like Kent which are 98% white are the most hostile to immigration. You overhear conversations that would shame the USA South. The UK thinks that 23% of the population are migrants, instead of 13% - they think that UK is "full up" instead of only 6% of land being developed upon. They think migrants only come for UK dole money even though 93% already have jobs when they arrive. They think that jobs numbers are a zero sum game - if he takes a job, someone else loses a job. Even though we have record employment and 1M job vacancies.

Recent surveys bizarrely show that UK increasingly likes migrants. The ones they know are very nice - but they dislike migration. That may be due to fear and lack of any control as the UK Government do not manage and help the migrants that come to UK. Scotland really needs migrants, Liverpool has whole streets of empty houses but migrants just drift to wherever they wish. Councils get whatever funding percentages they always had irrespective of extra needs when migrants strain existing services and housing. Labour did put in some extra funding but the Conservatives stopped that.

The shambles only seem to be controlled by the economy and business - if it is booming then large number of migrants come. In a recession they go back home as they did in Ireland (but not UK due to QE etc.) post their banking crash.

It is all very difficult to get your head around as we do not seem to have had any common understanding nor national debate ever.

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