Full Debate: Is Immigration a Human Right?

Release Date
May 16, 2017


Immigration Liberty Rights

Bryan Caplan and Christopher Wellman debate immigration. Is there a human right to immigrate to any country in the world?
Debate sponsored by IHS, the John Templeton Foundation, and University of San Diego’s Center for Ethics, Economics, and Public Policy.

    1. Are Immigration Restrictions Required by Individual Rights? (blog post): Nicolás Maloberti argues immigration restrictions restrict the right of association. 
    2. The Constitutional Rights of Noncitizens (blog post): Regardless of whether or not immigration is a human right, noncitizens certainly have rights that must be protected. Professor Ilya Somin explains what those rights are. 
    3. Debating the Ethics of Immigration: Is There a Right to Exclude? (book): In this book, referred to in the debate, Christopher Wellman and Phillip Cole argue that freedom of association allows for states to restrict immigration.

Matt Zwolinski: Good evening and welcome. My name is Matt Zwolinksi. I am a professor of philosophy here at the University of San Diego and I’m also the founder and director of USD Center for Ethics Economics and Public Policy which is sponsoring tonight’s debate. One of the main goals of that center is to promote open and inclusive conversations at USD about important issues of public policy. My guiding belief in founding the center is that in a democratic society, and especially on college campuses within such a society. It is vitally important that we learn to talk to and more importantly to listen to individuals with whom we might profoundly disagree.
When we fail to do this, when we confine ourselves inside physical or virtual ideological bubbles, we lose the ability to understand people who hold opinions different from our own. When we don’t understand people who are different we all too often do not respect them, instead vilifying anyone who disagrees with us as either stupid or mean or both. I think we can do better than that, and I think we must. I expect that tonight’s debate is going to be a model of how we can do it.
What I hope and expect we will see tonight is two people who disagree with each other quite profoundly on what I believe is one of the most important moral issues facing our country today, namely whether the right to migrate freely from one country to another is a basic human right. But while these two individuals disagree with each other, they also have a great deal of respect for each other. They know that the search for wisdom and public policy comes from forcefully probing the arguments and evidence that run counter to your own position. they know that issues of public policy are complex and involve a host of competing moral values and other difficult considerations and they know most importantly that reasonable people can and do and will disagree.
My hope for this evening is that you will come away from this debate with not only a better understanding of your own view, but even more importantly a better understanding of the view that you reject. Now, on to the debate. The motion for tonight is immigration is a human right and we’re trying something a little different with this debate we’re going to be doing some polling.
We’re going to do a poll right now where you can weigh in on this motion and tell us whether you agree or disagree with it. Please in considering your vote pay careful attention to the wording of the motions so you’re not voting on whether you like or dislike immigrants or like or dislike immigration, you’re voting on a moral question whether immigration is or is not a human right.
So you can vote now and vote for at least the next five or 10 minutes or so in one of two ways. You can either text your vote to the number indicated on the screen starting with 315 and you vote, you text the message 7816 and a space and then either an A or a B. A if you agree or B if you disagree and then send it or you can go to the URL indicated on the screen and vote that way. If you go to the URL just log in as a guest. We will be voting now. As I said, we’ll be voting again at the end of the debate and we will see how people’s minds change or if people’s minds change over the course of the evening. As these things normally go we will say that the debating side which changes the most minds has won and is therefore objectively correct in all of its philosophic … No, they just win.
So, please vote now and with that I am going to turn things over to my friend and colleague Tim McCarty who is a professor of political science here at the University of San Diego and who has graciously agreed to serve as a moderator tonight’s event and he will introduce our debaters. Dr. McCarty.
Tim McCarty: Thanks. Hi everybody, I’m Tim McCarty. I am a member of the department of political science and international relations here at USD, just upstairs if you’re curious. I want to thank … I’ll be the moderator for tonight’s event. I want to thank Professor Zwolinksi for inviting me to participate in such a such an exciting event. I feel very humbled and honored to be a part of this, especially to be in the company of such honored guests as we have especially given their willingness to be put through the wringer of a formal debate to determine whose ideas are of course objectively correct.
So, I just want to say a few words about what it is that we’re going to be doing here because you all saw an advertisement that said this is going to be a debate about immigration. We have before us a serious question and it’s a serious question that is going to be interrogated in a serious manner. Although our contemporary political discourse pretends to gravity on this question. I’m certain that if you attend carefully to the arguments of our speakers you’ll note how little the terms of this debate resemble those of our familiar pundits and politicians.
So for that reason I encourage you to leave aside your assumptions about the terms upon which a debate over the question of immigration ought to proceed. Whether or not you find yourself changing your vote on the matter at hand at the conclusion of the debate I should hope that the experience of participating in tonight’s event will have the laudable effect of helping each of us re-examine the countless ways in which we thoughtlessly approach such topics on a day to day basis.
It’s not the mere shifting of policy or preference but in the shifting of the terms of political discourse that we hope to produce true progress in our political society. And that’s what we’re trying to do here tonight. So we’re particularly honored on that journey to have with us two guests that are such distinguished scholars. And before I formally introduce them I wanted to say something a little personal about how honored I am to be here with them tonight by pure coincidence despite having met neither of them in person before this event
Both Professor Caplan and Professor Wellman have appeared in my course syllabi and in my written work. Both of their names actually appear in the works cited of my dissertation. So, if only from my own personal experience I can say that they have wisdom that is worth attending to and taking seriously that I think both as a teacher and a scholar and a citizen. So, I hope you will find their ideas as edifying as I do. So first Professor Bryan Caplan is professor of economics at George Mason University and the author of the books The Myth of the Rational Voter, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids and the soon to be published The Case Against Education, which is not what you think it is.
He is currently at work on a nonfiction graphic novel about the philosophy and social science of immigration called All Roads Lead to Open Borders. He’s also a prominent blogger and public intellectual who has published everywhere from MSNBC and Fox News to the Wall Street Journal and even the failing New York Times. Tonight professor Caplan will be arguing the affirmative side of the resolution.
His combatant will be Professor Christopher Heath Wellman, professor of philosophy at the University of Washington University in St. Louis. He’s the author of six books including a theory of secession, liberal rights and responsibilities. The forthcoming rights forfeiture and punishment and perhaps the most interest to those of you in the audience here tonight debating the ethics of immigration is there a right to exclude. I suspect some of those ideas will show up in his remarks this evening. Tonight professor Wellman will be arguing the negative side of the resolution.
Now our ground rules for tonight are fairly straightforward. There will be 10-minute opening arguments from each side and after those 10-minute opening arguments there will be 10 minutes of direct questioning from each side to one another. We’re calling that the hot seat part of the debate. Following that, there will be four minutes of closing argument for each side and then there will be 30 minutes for Q&A. so prepare questions for our speakers. You’ll have the opportunity to participate at the end.
I think with that we will we will begin. I’m going to turn the floor over to the affirmative side of our debate. Please conclude voting on the resolution now that your ideas will be influenced by the ideas of our debaters. So, please join me in welcoming professor Bryan Caplan.
Bryan Caplan: Thank you very much. There are many complaints about governments but the harshest is this government grossly violates basic human rights. The idea is that all human beings have rights that everyone including governments are morally obliged to respect. When you look at the grossest violators: Nazi Germany, Soviet Union, Maoist China, almost no one denies the validity the idea of human rights. But once you accept the idea of human rights you have to wonder do the governments that we know and accept and even love have clean hands or do they violate human rights too.
To answer we usually apply simple tests. If an individual treated other people the same way the government does would that individual clearly be a horrible criminal? So if an individual deliberately kills innocent people he’s a murderer. If an individual imprisons innocent people, he’s a kidnapper. If the government does the same things, violates basic human rights. Of course, the government can’t justify its actions by just calling innocent people criminals by saying well you’re criminals because I said so.
So if someone is peacefully living his life then he is innocent whatever the government might say. That of course is underlying the whole idea of human rights because without that there’d be no human rights. Now what does any of this have to do with immigration? A lot. Since we are in San Diego I bet that everyone here has actually seen illegal immigrants with your own eyes. Now what are the vast majority of them actually doing? Working for willing employers, renting apartments from willing landlords, buying stuff from willing merchants, sending money home to their families, and they may even be sitting right next to you in class.
They sure look innocent and even admirable. But the US government can and does forcibly arrest and exiled them to the third world. Now why can’t they all just come legally the right way? Because exile is the default. Exile is the default. They’re all exiled unless the US government makes a very rare exception. Now this is far less bad than killing people or imprisoning them. But it still seems like a severe human rights violation. Suppose the government were to exile you into the third world. I think that would seem like a pretty bad thing to do to you even though it’s not as bad as killing you or imprisoning you.
So if the government did that to you wouldn’t that violate your basic human rights? Now you could very reasonably eject the human rights are not absolute. There’s a strong more presumption against killing imprisoning and exiling innocent people. But, maybe it’s okay to do this if the overall consequences of respecting human rights lead to or the overall consequences respecting the rights would be truly awful.
Now the main problem with this objection is that when social scientists actually go and try to measure the overall consequence of immigration they don’t look clearly awful at all. In fact, the overall consequence of immigration look totally awesome. So, most notably right, this is a huge issue we could have a whole additional debate on it but let me just tell you the one big one. When economists estimate the effects of allowing all the talent in the world to freely move to wherever it wants to go the usual estimate is this would roughly double global prosperity. Roughly doubling global prosperity. That’s an extra $75 trillion of production per year. That’s a lot.
Now how is it possible that just letting people move around the world would increase production so much? Because even the world’s lowest skilled workers produce vastly more in the first world than they do back at home. Now, even if all the other fears about immigration were bulletproof they’re not but we don’t have time to go into that, they’re still dwarfed by this gargantuan economic gain of $75 trillion of extra production per year. Now as I say my graphic novel with pictures to prove it, this is not trickled down economics. This is Niagara Falls economics.
Now so to effectively defend immigration restrictions then so saying the human rights are not absolute is not sufficient. You need to flatly deny that immigration is a human right. In other words, you need to say that while illegal immigrants that you meet on the street or you see in class next to you may look like perfectly innocent people, they’re not. They’re actually guilty as hell. Now the most popular argument here analogizes illegal immigrants to trespassers. No one has any right to be here without government permission. It’s our country, so we set the rules.
The obvious problem with this position is that it justifies a vast range of blatant human rights abuses that almost anyone would say are indeed human rights violations. So, if it’s our country and we set the rules why can’t government exile citizens too? Why can’t we imprison people for saying the wrong thing, practicing the wrong religion or having kids without government permission? I forgot that this was a Catholic school when I wrote that. But, so probably especially horrifying, yes.
All right now of course you could say well that’s never going to happen so who cares, but they said that this is a philosophy debate. So that is a cop out. The point is not it’s going to happen I’m not claiming these balls are likely to happen anytime soon or these changes. I’m just raising these to say look you know if the US government in fact chose to do this would it be violating your human rights or not. If it did, would it be human rights violation? In the unlikely scenario that it did, would it be?
Now professor Wellman, and I want to be very fair I read his book beforehand so that I could do my best here, he has a much more sophisticated version of the story. Of course I think I expected I’ll tell him tell you himself but let me pre-but what I think he’s going to say.
So Wellman defense immigration restrictions for legitimate states only, so he tries to get Soviet Union out of the way, on the grounds that immigration restrictions are vital for freedom of association. Now unfortunately we have two conflicting freedoms of association here. Because I want to be free to associate with foreigners and lots of foreigners want to be free to associate with me. Now immigration restrictions deny us this freedom of association in the name of all the Americans who don’t want my associates breathing American air. Now who should prevail given there’s a conflict?
Well this is where I really liked Wellman’s work, so I’m going to quote some of it. So in his work Wellman concedes what I think is a crucial premise. He freely admits that this popular notion that a lot of people have that we all can send to the government is a fiction, his word, fiction also called a myth or even a lie. Furthermore he says that “the coercion states invariably employ is non-consensual and as such is extremely difficult to justify.” Wellman’s words not mine.
So we don’t really face a choice between two freedoms association, we have a choice between freedom for real associations that we actually join and freedom for fictional associations that we’re forced to join. So unless the overall consequences are clearly awful, I say the fictional association should lose in favor of the actual ones. And I even have a slogan that I’ll probably repeat more than once tonight. This is the first time, freedom of association is only for free associations. Freedom of associations only for free associations.
Now my critics often tease me or actually the technical word is troll because it happens on Twitter mostly. But they often tease me should everyone on earth be free to immigrate into Bryan’s house. Should everyone on earth be free to immigrate into Bryan’s house. Now their point is that treating immigration as a basic human right is utopian nonsense. My reply is there’s really three competing positions on the right to immigrate.
The first position foreigners have a right to live in my house even if I don’t consent, which is a view held by almost no one. Second position, foreigners have a right to live in my house if I do consent, which is my view. Third view, foreigners have no right to live in my house even if I do consent which is the standard view I’m criticizing. Far from being utopian, affirming the human right to immigrate is just the moderate common sense position where natives and foreigners voluntary or voluntarily interact, strangers are morally obliged to leave them alone unless of course the consequences are absolutely hellish. And this remains true even if the stranger is the government and even if the government is popular. Thank you.
Tim McCarty: Now arguing the negative side of the debate we have Professor Christopher Heath Wellman.
Christopher Wellman: Thank you very much and thank you Matt for inviting me here. I’m thrilled to get the opportunity to discuss this issue with you and professor Caplan. So I want to say at the outset that I’m not an advocate for closed borders. My parents are from different countries and if it weren’t for somewhat porous borders, I wouldn’t be standing here before you. I actually think that most countries including the United States would be better off and humanity as a whole would be better off if we had more porous borders.
But I am an unapologetic defender of a legitimate states right to set and enforce its own immigration policies. And that’s why I was invited so let me explain how I came to that conclusion. It’s three basic premises. The first is that legitimate states are entitled to political self-determination. The second is that freedom of association is an integral component of self-determination. So if you don’t have freedom of association you don’t have self-determination. And the third is that freedom of association includes the right not to associate with others.
So I’ll get to the first in a bit but let me explain the second and third of these in terms of a sort of a domestic everyday example. Think about my right to get married. I wouldn’t have a full freedom of association in the marital realm just if I was allowed to get married. It has to be true that I can pick or reject potential suitors. Right? So my father is … Some of you know my father he’s much more wise than I. he might be able to do a better job picking a life partner than I could. It might be that my life would go better if he could choose my spouse.
But I wouldn’t be self-determining. I wouldn’t be the author of my own life in a very fundamental sense unless I was able to reject his choice, anyone else’s choice, any potential suitor. Right? So it seems natural and commonsensical to say that in order to be self-determining, in order to be the author of our own lives we have to be able to form associations but also reject potential associations. And if you don’t have that opportunity to reject prospective associates, you’re not self-determining.
What does it have to do with states? I think the same thing applies to legitimate states. So take Norway for instance. Norway it seems to me if anything any state is a good candidate for legitimate state it’s Norway. I think Sweden seceded from Norway in 1905. Maybe they bitterly regret it now and they say we’d like to get back together. Norway says no thank you. They say no really we want to get back together. Could Sweden forcibly annex Norway to reunite? It seems not. It seems that you the Norwegians as a whole have the right to either accept or reject that merger. Or think about the European Union. the European Union might go as it has to Norway and say look we’d be stronger with you and we think you’d be stronger with us won’t you join as a full member of the European Union. It seems to me that it’s Norway’s call whether or not they want to be part of the Union and the European Union doesn’t have a right to forcibly annex Norway. So Norway as on at least two occasions held a plebiscite and the people of Norway decided they don’t want to be members of the European Union.
And that seems to be very commonsensical it seems to me Norway has the right and if either Sweden or the European Union tried to forcibly annex nor they would be wrongly forcing an association on them and wrongly disrespecting the self-determination to which they’re entitled as a legitimate state. But if that’s true now imagine there are prospective immigrants that want to come in to Norway. Maybe they’re Swedes that want to come into Norway. Maybe they’re Europeans that want to come to Norway.
It’s Norway’s call whether they want to include them as members in their political community. Just as it changes the constitution of a country if it merges with Sweden or becomes a part of the European Union the self that is self-determining changes when new members are brought in. so in a very important component of Norway’s right to self-determination is the right to exclude prospective members if it doesn’t want to include them. Again I’m not advocating this. I’m not saying what type of position Norway should take with respect to reuniting with Sweden or joining the European Union or letting in any prospective immigrant I’m saying as a legitimate state it’s their call.
My view is that for legitimate states there is a right to set and then enforce its immigration policies. But it’s very important that’s merely a presumptive right. It’s not the only thing that matters. Bryan was very good to acknowledge that he’s not an absolutist about human rights. And I’m certainly not an absolutist about political self-determination. So you might say fine under ideal circumstances maybe Norway has a right to set its immigration policies.
But look around the world. We are far from ideal circumstances and so many people are so much worse off. We’re not just talking about Swedes who have a spectacular standard of living, but we’re talking about people around the world in developing countries who would go to extraordinary lengths and make extraordinary sacrifices to be able to live within the sheltered confines of a well-oiled liberal democracy in such an efficient government.
And when you have people on the outside who whose life prospects are so much worse off for no reasons of their own doing, it’s just because they happen to be born on the other side of a border, surely global justice is more important than freedom of association. And I have a lot of sympathy for this but I do think that it may be the country wealthy Western countries like Norway should be doing more in terms of global justice, should be doing more for the global poor. But what I want to emphasize is whatever those duties of distributive justice are they’re distinct from and can be kept separate from rights of freedom of association.
So think about Bill and Melinda Gates for instance. They’re doing spectacularly well. I’d love to be part of the gates family, because they’re doing so much better than I. Does that mean that I have a right to join their family or they have to adopt my children? Presumably not. If they have duties to help people who are less fortunate than they, they can discharge those duties in ways other than integrating them into the family. They can transfer money out got it right this again just seems commonsensical. I don’t know exactly what kind of duties of distributive justice the gates have. But take your favorite theory whatever it is.
They can transfer that money to the people, they don’t have to literally open their homes to people no matter how desperate those people are. But if we recognize that commonsensical position in the domestic realm why shouldn’t we say the same thing in the geopolitical context. Whatever we think Norway and Norwegians own to people who through no fault of their own are much worse off around the world. It doesn’t seem like that debt has to be paid in the currency of open borders.
The Norwegians may want to open their borders and I have no objection to that. but what I’m insisting is that if they prefer to jealously guard their borders they can discharge their debt by transferring money elsewhere or transferring resources to helping people or giving refugees the refuge they need elsewhere. so even it in the real world where we’ve got stark inequalities and perhaps very stringent duties of global distributive justice, I think that doesn’t defeat the case the presumptive right to exclude outsiders.
Two minutes? What about refugees? You can’t just send refuge in a box, right, in the way that you can send money. so it looks like that might be a counter example it might be that well generally you can help those people are less fortunate when they are but you’ve got to allow refugees to immigrate. I don’t think so. I agree that refuge, we cannot turn our backs on refugees but what refugees have a right to is refuge. They don’t necessarily have a right to be permanent members of our society.
So if refugees can be helped where they are, then you should do so. If they can’t you may allow them temporarily into your country, try and fix the problem where they are and if you can fix it there’s nothing wrong with returning them. So think about the Kurds for instance in northern Iraq who are vulnerable to genocide by Saddam Hussein’s Baathist regime. They certainly needed protection. One of the things you could have done is allow all the Kurds to migrate to the United States. The other thing you could do is set up a safe haven with a no-fly zone in Northern Iraq so that they are in fact secure where they are. And if there are plenty cases where you can’t do that and you can go in and maybe restructure things there.
And you say well isn’t that contrary to your principle of political self-determination? No, because I think the only states that are entitled to political self-determination are legitimate states. Any country which is either causing or failing protect those people who need refuge are not legitimate states. So, to conclude, I’m not interested in excluding folks I wouldn’t advocate for it but I do believe that legitimate states have a presumptive right to exclude outsiders. And surprisingly this right is not defeated even in the case of stark inequalities or necessarily defeated when there are refugees on the outside. Thank you.
Tim McCarty: Is this working? All right. We’re going to move on to the second part of our event. We’re going to move on to the direct question and answer. And I believe we’re going to start with Professor Caplan directly questioning professor Wellman. Am I correct about the order of operations here? All right, you have you have 10 minutes to put your opponent on the hot seat.
Bryan Caplan: All right. So I’ve read your whole book before I came here and your talk seems to exactly parallel what you said in the book. So I can just go through the questions I was asking the book. So first one as I said in my talk it seems like there’s actually a conflict between multiple freedoms association. There’s my freedom to associate with foreigners if I want to and there is the freedom of Americans do not associate with people they want to.
So why is it that you think that the freedom of the association you call a fiction wins?
Christopher W.: Good. So first I want to clarify that I don’t think a political association is fictional. What I think is a fiction is that everyone’s consented to the government. But the association of compatriots fellow citizens is a very real association, it’s an extremely important association. now that doesn’t mean it’s the only association and you’re absolutely right there’s going to be a tension between whether we defer to the group and say no the group as a whole gets beside who’s in and who’s out first is the individual deciding with whom she associates.
And if we defer to the group, as I recommend and you do not right, then we’re restricting individual self-determination.
Bryan Caplan: Right. So why do you always take the side of the government then? Always as far as I can tell.
Christopher W.: Good. So I don’t always take the side of the government and I would …
Bryan Caplan: When not?
Christopher W.: These are good. So I start with the presumption in favor of the individual. So it seems to me the only thing that morally matters ultimately are individuals. States are extremely important but they’re important instruments for individuals. So I start in your corner. So why in this context would I move? Well think about some examples. Think about whether Norway should reunite with Sweden. Is that something that any individual should decide or as the people as a whole? I think they’re right to have a pleather sight and no one individual could be to it or think about the reunification of Germany. Presumably, there’s some East Germans who wanted to do it some East Germans who didn’t some West Germans wanted to do it some West Germans that didn’t.
It seems like when we’re talking about groups of this type that it’s appropriate for the group to preside over this decision.
Bryan Caplan: But I asked you why you always take the side of the government and then you give me the really easy cases like to Sweden and Norway. how about I want to go and hire some desperately for Haitians they want to work for me and there’s some people who have no good arguments other than we don’t want them around and why should that win rather than me?
Christopher W.: All right …
Bryan Caplan: And the Haitians, of course.
Christopher W.: Okay. So you’re absolutely right to the cost in terms of your individual right to unilaterally invite.
Bryan Caplan: But a cost that never seems to change anything for you.
Christopher W.: So let me explain this. so imagine for instance that I go home but came in yesterday I go home tomorrow and I asked my wife Donna you know what you do while I was gone and she says well you know I did a yoga class I’ve been talking about. That was tons of fun and I went to went to dinner with Carol, that was nice right. Oh and I adopted a Haitian. Do you think the natural response to say oh well great yoga, do yoga if you want? You want to go to dinner with Carol you want to do and freedom of association if you want to associate with this Haitian child then you may unilaterally adopt her into our family.
Bryan Caplan: But you’re doing the same thing I just said where you’re taking the most extreme case. And my question is how come you always side with the government every single time. What is a case where you would ever side with the individual against the government, when a foreigner’s involved? I want to associate with a foreigner. When do you ever say the government should just shut up and get out of the way?
Christopher W.: Okay. Good. So let me … There is a case where I think freedom of association is the individual level prevails. And that’s been the stakes are so high for the individual and it’s not damaging to the group. That would be family reunification. So when it comes to … So I don’t have a blanket preference for the group prevailing and I don’t have an absolutist position with respect to individuals. but it seems to me for instance if you’ve got a parent and a child that are separated by political borders or you’ve got life partners who are separated in that case I think that the moral presumption should go to the individual. so that’s a case where I would say that the collective as a whole does not have a right to tell me that I can’t bring my child into the country or that I can’t bring my spouse into the country.
Bryan Caplan: Why is my Haitian example just as good? If it’s true that first of all it sucks to be in Haiti very true and if you there’s actually no clear harm with me hiring a Haitian, right. He’s just a perfectly decent guy who wants to go and take you I wants to do my gardening, whatever. Seems like that fits both your criteria but you still say no to him.
Christopher W.: Right. So your view … Be careful, right, because your view is not just that you may invite a Haitian to the country, you may invite all Haitians into the country and you may invite all sub-Saharan Africans into the country, right. And it seems to me that this would have profound implications for our political community, right. So an important part of self-determination oneself as a group is determining who the group is. and so if we gave discretion to the individual, right, and said oh any individual can invite in everybody that she wants then this would have profound implications for the as a whole and so. That’s why it seems to me the group as a whole should preside over the decision.
Bryan Caplan: But of course that applies to many other cases of human rights like the right to change religion. What would happen if everyone in our society became Satanists yet I think you would not be so cool with saying I guess there isn’t really a right of freedom of religion. So individual choices add up and get big effects. Although at least I would think they would say well at least let’s see how big how big and bad these effects are first before we even start thinking about limiting people.
Christopher W.: Right. So, you’re absolutely right and about a couple things. First of all, I’m glad that you acknowledge I don’t always side with the state because in the case of freedom of religion I would certainly …
Bryan Caplan: That’s why I specified foreigners. Foreigners is where you were seem to be drawing the exceptions.
Christopher W.: Well, I think that group membership should be decided by the group as a whole right. But the other thing is you’re presuming right that that the right to immigrate is a human right. So I certainly think that the demos, the group as a whole, doesn’t get to democratically decide all things. We’re democratically constrained by the human rights of others. But what I deny and of course it’s the question for the debate is that immigration is a human right. I deny that so I’m comfortable with the state disallowing outsiders to unilaterally come in.
Bryan Caplan: Now in your book you defend a view that I call or release my mind pay-or-play which is either Norway has to go and send a lot of money to desperately poor people or let them in. is that right?
Christopher W.: Yeah, so what I would say is that if you think their duties of distributive justice and I don’t want to deny that whatever your favorite theory is that those can be discharged in a disjunctive fashion, you can open your borders if you want. Just as the Gates could adopt me if they wanted. But you don’t have to. But if you want to, if you have duties a distributive justice and you’re not going to pay in the currency of open borders, then you have to pay in some other fashion.
So given that almost no country on earth, rich country in earth actually gave as much money to third world is your you then that under current conditions there is right to it there is a right for them to come in because it’s not being satisfied financially.
Christopher W.: Yes, it’s certainly true that my position is not a justification for the status quo, right. I’m not defending US policy, I’m not …
Bryan Caplan: Yeah, but if your view that given that the US gives very little in foreign aid that because of that we then do it do you have to respect the right of people to come?
Christopher W.: Yeah, so that the view is … So I don’t take any position on the duties of distributive justice. But the view is whatever the duties of distributive justice are, if they’re greater than what the US is currently doing then the US should do more. But that more can come either in terms of opening borders or in terms of transfers.
Tim McCarty: All right Professor Caplan your 10 minutes of hot seat questioning is up.
Bryan Caplan: I still need this don’t i?
Tim McCarty: We’ll turn to Professor Wellman. Professor Wellman the floor is yours for 10 minutes.
Christopher W.: Okay so the first thing that I want to emphasize is that in a context like this it’s very tempting to sort of mock or ridicule or vilify your opponent. But I actually have a great deal of sympathy for the spirit of his talk. I think he’s absolutely right that we need to be mindful of the human rights of everybody. Not just our fellow citizens. And that we need to be vigilant to the idea that maybe even our own state is being disrespectful of human rights, okay. So I think I actually agree with Professor Caplan more than I disagree.
But I do disagree and I disagree with you specifically on whether immigration is a human right. So we have all of these documents, human rights documents and they do in fact say that there’s a human right of freedom of movement. But they’re very clear that this freedom of movement doesn’t include the right to immigrate to whatever country you want. So for instance the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as Article 13, which says that everyone has a human right to move around freely within their country and they have a right to leave any country therein including their own. And if they leave their own country they have a right to return to it.
But it’s very clear that this document nor the others say that there’s a human right to immigrate. Now these documents could all be wrong. But I’d like to invite you to explain why they are wrong and why that the human right to freedom of movement must be understood so expansively and these documents all got it wrong so that they include the right to immigrate into any country that people want.
Bryan Caplan: All right. I mean, I’d say first of all we should not be in any way surprised the documents wrong because some of the worst human rights violators in history were the key signatories. Soviet Union most obviously. So that the documents would not really be very reflective of human rights is not very surprising. Why is it that – why interpret the free right of freedom of movement so expansively? Well because the right to travel freely in the country is not very valuable unless the country is a well-developed country. So it’s better than nothing but the right to travel freely inside of Haiti, that’s not so great. Right?
Someone say look, make the most of your opportunities here in Haiti. All right, I’ve done that. It still seems really crummy. I’m not very satisfied. Why can’t I just go and take a job from Bryan who’s perfectly eager to hire me?
Christopher W.: Okay, good. So, I agree that some rights might not be so valuable. Rights can be more or less valuable but that doesn’t mean they’re being disrespected or that that’s the problem. So the problem with Haitians rights and I think that’s an excellent example is not that their freedom of movement is problematically restricted, the problem is they have such few opportunities for a good life. Right?
Bryan Caplan: Well yes, because almost all their opportunities are other countries. And that’s not going to change. You can go and say let’s go and make things better in Haiti but I don’t see that happening. but some very interesting work done so something like 80% of all Haitians with a middle-class living standard don’t live in Haiti. Yes. So in other words about out of all the people who were born in Haiti about 80% of those who have made it into the middle class have done it by leaving.
And again, it comes down to you’ll say why is this human right. I mean you may say it’s not a very valuable human right to be in Haiti but still like why should it be any more than that. Again it’s the question of why can’t other people just leave them alone. Like why is it that if I want … There’s a willing employer who wants to hire them they can’t say yes to that and other people say it’s none of our business.
Christopher W.: Yes, so I’m in danger of repeating myself here because I’ve tried to explain why it’s not just leaving people alone if it has implications for all of us when someone is included in the group. So let me just switch to one other thing, I don’t know how much time we have left here, which is it seems to me that … I’ll defer to you on the economics of the issue. It seems very plausible that when you set up artificial barriers that things are going to be inefficient. But it also seems to me that legitimate states have a right to organize themselves in ways that are not maximally efficient.
So you might look over my investment portfolio and say oh, I’m telling you should change this, this and this. Your retirement should be structured this way. Maybe you’re right just as maybe my father was right about who I should marry and who I shouldn’t marry. But it’s my call who I marry. And it’s my call how I structure my investment portfolio. Even if I do so in an inefficient way or a way that seems risk-averse or things like that. So if you if you take seriously political self-determination, which I think we should. And I think the examples of Norway motivate that right, the implication then is going to be that the Norwegians for instance can organize themselves whether in terms of trade barriers or in terms of their investment of the North Sea oil in ways that aren’t maximally efficient.
Bryan Caplan: So again it seems like you’re appealing to can’t states go and do things that aren’t quite perfectly awesome. When the actual evidence is they’re doing something that’s far worse than not perfectly awesome, they’re actually grossly impoverishing a great many people that pee that Americans would be perfectly happy to hire. So yes, so it’s not a question of like can’t we be slightly imperfect, can’t we just make our own mistakes. It’s a question of can we go and along with other rich countries depress the wealth the world by 50%.
Which, of course, is not just a matter of having fewer iPhones it’s a matter of life and death for plenty of people. So, again, it seems like even if you accept the idea the countries only can do what they want within some limits we’re so far outside those limits that I don’t see that your argument is really relevant.
Christopher W.: Okay. So again, it seems like you’re shifting then from immigration. So if the problem is that the United States is doing things which is actively hurting outsiders so that they can’t live minimally decent lives, those things shouldn’t be done. But that’s separate from freedom of movement, that’s separate from immigration, right. so if the United States is doing something so that Haitians can’t organize themselves in a liberal democracy or if the United States are doing something so that the Haitians can’t have a functioning autonomy, then that’s problematic. Right?
But that’s different from saying that they have to open their borders and they have to open their political community to everybody who is dramatically worse off and would be better off.
Bryan Caplan: It seems there are two kinds of things the US could be dealing in Haiti. We could be actually messing up their government or do selling all the kind of thing you’re talking about but they could also just be hurting an individual Haitians. And when we’re talking about hurting individual nations then of course it’s directly relevant of freedom of migration. Because as I said the only realistic path that Asians have to a better life is moving to another country. I do wish that were not so but that that is the actual way that almost all Haitians who escape poverty do manage to escape poverty.
Now again like you say well this is just about poverty it’s not about human rights but again as I said, I’m not an absolutist right, I am open to the idea the consequences of immigration will be so terrible that the right should actually just [inaudible 00:46:30] respect the right. But this is the opposite case. This is where we’re not respecting the rights and the consequences are terrible. Put those two together and yes we should respect the rights.
Christopher W.: Okay I’ll just close with this if I got 30 seconds. So a couple times now you’ve said this is the only realistic option because countries like the United States aren’t going to do the other things that are necessary for Haitians to flourish in Haiti or even for them to live minimally decent lives. Right? But, I think two things. First of all what solutions I think you’d agree with us shouldn’t be bound by what people will in fact do. But second of all even if you wanted to pivot to that right I think that countries like the United States it’s less realistic to think that they’re going to open their borders than it is to think they’re going to help people elsewhere. I don’t recommend this, but countries like the United States tend to very jealously protect their political membership. So it seems to me the more realistic prescription is to try and ask them to stop hurting people elsewhere. And if you can explain the duty to do so to start helping people as well. Thank you.
Tim McCarty: You got 30 seconds.
Bryan Caplan: That’s fine.
Tim McCarty: All right. Now it’s time for closing statements.
Christopher W.: We have Q&A don’t we?
Tim McCarty: That’s …
Matt Zwolinski: After.
Tim McCarty: I think Q&A’s after closing [inaudible 00:47:50].
Christopher W.: Oh, sorry.
Tim McCarty: Yes. Closing statements and then Q&A. All right. So Professor Wellman if you want to take four minutes and have your closing statement.
Christopher W.: So in the interchange it might be easy to infer that Bryan cares about the absolute poverty of people in Haiti and I don’t. And I want to emphasize that’s not the case, at all. I’m not trying to defend the status quo. I’m not trying to say that Haitians don’t matter because they’re foreigners. What I want to say is that no matter whatever theory you have about how much is owed to the Haitians in terms of the United States stopping what it’s doing to harm them and starting to do more to help them, fine. But this can be explained in terms other than open borders.
Second thing, I’m not recommending that these duties be discharged in ways other than open borders. I’m just pointing out like the Gates family, you have the option. So if the Gates family want to be like Brad and Angelina except for they got the resources to adopt a thousand children, fine, Godspeed. God bless them, I have nothing against them. All I’m pointing out is that the Gates family want to help in other ways and of course they are helping in other ways. Right? Then that’s enough and they’re entitled to their freedom of association.
And I want to say the same thing about the Norwegians. so you might come to me and say well how is this just, how is it just that the Norwegians have so much these people just happen to be born in Norway and then that the people born in Chad have so little. That’s not right. You’re going to get no disagreement for me. I’m not trying to say that it’s right. Okay, tell me your favorite theory of what is owed and then I’ll tell you fine the Norwegians have to do that, they have to pay that. And they can open the borders by all means if they want to. But if they prefer to pay in other terms, they can do so. So there may be very demanding, very stringent duties of distributive justice but it’s a disjunctive duty and it can be paid in multiple currencies. Thank you.
Bryan Caplan: Yeah so Professor Wellman is a unique individual to debate because everyone else that I know who has the view of government that he has favors something like open borders. [Inaudible 00:51:07] requote this passage from him. This is Wellman again, the coercion states and very willing and [inaudible 00:51:14] is non-consensual and as such is extremely difficult to justify.”
Most people think that and look at Norway and say you know Norway isn’t really consensual Norway is it Norway is actually forcing people to be part of something many of them don’t want to and we should be suspicious even when Norway does. But professor Wellman doesn’t want to be suspicious of Norway. Professor Wellman wants to look at Norway and say well it’s a legitimate country, they should be able to do what they want. After conceding well it may look like everything’s fine but actually it’s a non-consensual organization. So I say we should take Professor Wellman’s words very seriously.
Governments are not voluntary organizations. You’re forced to belong to them. I tell you yes you can love it or leave it so you can flee the country but that is not a very meaningful choice as you might have noticed over the last election. A few people say they’re going to flee if the election goes the wrong way but they do not. So what I say is that if we take freedom of association seriously we should. We should take freedom of association seriously for the voluntary organizations, for employment relations, for tenant/landlord relations, for relationships between schools and students. all of the private ones which of course are overruled by immigration restrictions would say you can’t hire someone that you want to hire, you can’t rent to someone you want to rent to. You can’t go and sell your products someone wants to buy them, and you can’t go and admit someone as a student because they don’t have the papers that the government has given them.
Wellman’s theory is also odd to me because she starts with something that seems very moderate saying look it’s just a presumption and then he ends up with almost the same view that someone who believes in borders no matter what would have. That’s odd. And again to me suggests that there’s something strange going on but I’ll leave that to you.
Now when he says that he’s not recommending immigration restrictions that’s true but we could also say he’s also not condemning immigration restrictions. and in his book she does try to just be as agnostic as possible and also to bend over backwards to be understanding towards any complaints that people might have about immigration even if they’re the kind of complaints that normally we would just say well even if that complaint is true you just have to live with it. So for many other freedoms, so the freedom to change religion. That’s a basic freedom and if a lot of people exercise that that could lead to some bad things.
But what do we do about that? At minimum we say well we’ll wait and see and if something really bad happens then maybe we’ll do something about it. But otherwise we’re just going to sit here or again the freedom to have as many kids as you want. Could that lead to something bad? It might but what do we do about it, absolutely nothing and tell someone actually points to some really strong evidence that there’s a real problem.
Now just to go back to the fundamental question so is immigration human right. so as I said, if government were to go and deny you the right to live here, if the United States government were to say you don’t get to be here, that would seem like an enormous human rights violation to you. Not as bad as killing you or imprisoning you, but quite bad. I can imagine that it turned out that you were actually added that you were actually adopted by the family you think as your biological family and you were illegal. And you wake up today and you say oh my god I actually don’t have the papers would it be a human rights violation for the United States government to kick you out of the only country ever known?
I didn’t say well like the rules are rules and if you don’t like it I’m not suing and I know that Professor Wellman would say I’m not advocate going kicking them out but it seemed to me we have to say they do have a right to do it. And my question is do they or would this or not in fact be a terrible thing to do to you, so wrong that even if the government is doing it, it still should not be allowed. Thank you.
Tim McCarty: All right do we do we want to put back up …
Matt Zwolinski: Yeah, now that you have heard the arguments on both sides it is time to once again register your opinion on the proposition that has been debated tonight, immigration is a human right. So sorry, real quick before you start doing this. The number up there is actually incorrect, a little technical glitch here. But if you want to vote now you should text to 933 … The code to text is 9334 not 5351. So use the same phone number. Text them to that number, 9334, the space and then A for agree, B for disagree or you can go to the URL and register your vote that way.
So I will allow you a little bit of time to do that and then while you’re voting we will have our question and answer period and at the end of that I will announce the winner.
Tim McCarty: All right. Well we’re ready to take questions from our very patient audience. I will try to be as fair as possible. I’ll take the front row here first if you stand up if you like or don’t.
Female: Do you both agree that the dreamers should be allowed to stay since this is the only country they have known and they have arrived here through no fault of their own?
Bryan Caplan: Yes.
Christopher W.: Yes-ish. So, there’s an occupancy right. But the no fault of their own I think is a little more complicated. So I do think that there’s an occupancy right. So there’s a fundamental difference between being excluded from a place that you’ve occupied versus going into something that you haven’t occupied. And so that’s why I’m more sympathetic to the International Human Rights documents than Bryan is. And so if somebody is occupied the territory, become attached to it, that seems morally relevant. But you’ve got to be careful because attachment and innocent attachment would explain why if you’re innocent in your attachment you shouldn’t be punished. But it doesn’t necessarily give you entitlement.
So if my mother steals a diamond from your mother and gives it to me and then I become attached to it over time, quite innocently so because I had no idea it was stolen right, it seems like my innocence would insulate me against punishment. But wouldn’t be unnecessarily entitled to the diamond. So, we have to explain why occupancy is different. I think we could but it’s not obvious.
Male: I’d like to have some clarification about the connection between freedom of association and immigration. The fact that someone comes from abroad enters the country lives here and works here doesn’t make him or her a member of the political association. So there is a big difference between just being a resident or someone who has a working visa and become a citizen. Could you please clarify the relevant moral connection between both? The question is to Professor Wellman.
Christopher W.: Good. So I think this is very important and it’s actually going to indicate that Bryan and I may disagree less than I advertised for the purposes of the debate. So if you come as a tourist, do we have to include you as a member? No. If you come and use decide you’re going to study at this university for a semester, do we have to give you voting rights and include you as a member? No. If you come and work on Bryan’s farm for a season do we have to include you as a member and give you voting rights? No. okay?
So I’m not against travel. I’m not against individuals being allowed to unilaterally invite in guests, even guest workers. But, when people come and stay indefinitely which is the difference between immigration and travel, right, then I think it is incumbent upon the state to include them as political members. And that’s where freedom of association gets its traction. Right? That’s why in those contexts I think the group does have a claim because the group should control membership.
So my argument has nothing to say about temporary visitation. And Bryan might be absolutely right that if he wants to invite someone to come and rent for a few months or work for a few months that they should be allowed to. But that’s not immigration.
Bryan Caplan: A few months why not a hundred years? It’s definite, it’s just they’re going to die before the term expires.
Christopher W.: Because it’s one of the fundamental democratic principles and I agree with this is that if the state is going to coerce you that you have to have a say in the state. So I think it’s deeply problematic if you have allowed people to come in stay indefinitely and didn’t give them a democratic voice.
Bryan Caplan: A hundred years is definite.
Christopher W.: I recognize that.
Bryan Caplan: Then why not, why shouldn’t your principle also allow people to do a hundred year contracts?
Christopher W.: Okay, so anything more than three years. If you want an arbitrary number, that’s a definite number.
Bryan Caplan: But why that?
Christopher W.: Pardon me?
Bryan Caplan: Why three years?
Christopher W.: Well I don’t think there is any magic in the number three, but you’re pressing me to give you a number below a hundred. What does matter, right, is when something becomes your lived space and you have no control over of the political environment that’s fundamentally contrary to democratic principles which I affirm.
Bryan Caplan: Yeah so let me say one thing about this. So this is one of the strangest principles I … I’ve heard it many times but it’s principle of look you have to stay in Haiti because you know what, if you came here we’d have to let you vote, and that’s super important for you. So you can’t come. That to me it’s just crazy. No Haitian alive who wants to come here would say oh my god I can’t vote then I don’t want to come. They don’t care. They would say yes will it just be terrible if I had no say over American policy. Wait I have no control over it now, except now I’m also stuck working in Haiti instead of living in the US where I could have a decent life.
Female: Hi, good evening. My name is Surya and I survived the tragedy of immigration as a seven year old little girl. I was smuggled through San Ysidro through no fault of my own. I didn’t have a say. I was uprooted after not seeing my parents for the first part of my childhood as I immigrated in the mid-80s during the Reagan administration. We have lost our humanity as far as immigration. This debate, this whole situation worldwide, we have completely lost why people immigrate.
The main reason why people immigrate is because of poverty and hunger and opportunity, those three simple principles. Now, I am here, I applied at USD. I am happy to say I am 37. I have two children. I became a citizen two years ago. I met Alex Padilla which is the State Department here of California and he spoke and he said something during the address. He said that immigrants are the foundation and we carry the country in a way.
So you look at a little child or a woman or a man, I don’t think people want to leave their countries of origin. I think is the conditions by our policies and our economic factors that drive this legal immigration worldwide. And you throw in the factors of war, you throw in the destruction of towns that have been demolished by our wars, by our policies and now we have this problem of refugees. I think that the minute we disassociate ourselves from a person and from an immigrant, we’ve lost our humanity.
So with that said I feel that we need to really look inside ourselves and see is that a person as an immigrant or is that a series of events of generations that drove that immigration. Thank you.
Bryan Caplan: Can you repeat the question?
Christopher W.: I’ll characterize it for people didn’t hear it. and I don’t want to put words in your mouth and I don’t think I’ll be as eloquent and I certainly won’t be as detailed. We’ve lost our humanity. You need to recognize that people are forced because of lack of opportunity, poverty and in some cases war to move. and that people move under harsh circumstances and they’re moved as young people under harsh circumstances and the way the dialogue is currently being carried out in this country those poor victims, I don’t mean to deny the agency, are being vilified and it’s not right.
Tim McCarty: Question over here.
Female: Hi, I have a question for Dr. Wellman. In your first speech you mentioned that a country changes when new members are added. And my question for you is do you think these changes are negative and if so why would these changes be any different from the other influxes of immigrations we’ve had in the past?
Christopher W.: No, I don’t think the changes are negative. I think the changes sometimes are perceived by the people, some changes are perceived as negative by some of the people. Some of the changes are perceived as positive by some of the people. What I do believe is that it’s the people’s decision to try and decide what they want to do. So for instance take Scotland for instance, recently had a [inaudible 01:05:52] on whether or not to leave to secede from the United Kingdom. Do I think Scotland would be better off as an independent country or part of the United Kingdom? I’m not sure but I do think that it was Scotland’s call. The Scottish as a whole got to decide whether that they wanted to continue to associate.
And I want to say the same thing about immigration. So say the Scots did secede and then they had to decide about what their immigration policy should be it would be their decision, whether any influx of immigrants would be positive or negative it’s not for me to say.
Bryan Caplan: Yeah so my day job is as a social scientist not a philosopher so I do a lot of reading on the actual overall attacks of immigration. As I said, the biggest one of all is the economic effect which is enormously positive. Again it’s important to remember that we’re not talking about just increasing output by moving by increasing population. The key point is that moving people from poor countries to rich countries increases global outputs because you’re moving people from countries where their talents largely go to waste to countries where their talents are put to good use.
There are a lot of other effects of immigration so there’s fiscal effects, cultural effects, political effects. I don’t have time to go into all of them but I would say that all of them are less bad than normal people think, first of all. So for all these cases people tend to jump to the worst conclusions when foreigners are involved. But any case, compared to the economic effects all the other effects are so small that they are just overshadowed and the net effect is very good. Now the immigration is a human right why does it matter what the effects are? Well that’s because as I said, like most philosophers I treat human rights as presumptive rights. That means that if you have to kill one innocent person to save the world, say well you should still do that. So it is always relevant to go and look at the effects. If the effects of immigration were indeed terrible then I would say while there is a surface human right to immigrate there isn’t really one. But in fact the evidence goes exactly on their side, immigration’s awesome.
So there’s no excuse for not allowing it. I’m sorry, and one other thing. And furthermore, so while Wellman does talk about you know countries deciding things it is government’s deciding things and of course those governments don’t speak for everybody in the country as he acknowledges in his writing. so again, I would say given that they don’t actually speak for everyone, given the government’s non-consensual, then we should then we should give a very strong benefited out not to the government, but to the individuals in the government within this society who do want to interact with foreigners as of course lots of us do.
Female: Okay, again, this is for Professor Wellman. You seem to be on the hot seat tonight. First off, I wanted to ask you what your definition of a legitimate state is. I think I heard it. I think it’s one in which people have a say. Then I wanted to ask does that legitimate state have the right to refuse the entry of refugees. I think I heard you say no but I’m not sure. And then the last one was that if the title were changed to just migration would your answer change?
Christopher W.: No, yes, no. Yeah, so first of all, my view is that a state is legitimate when it performs the requisite political functions satisfactorily well. What are the requisite political functions? Adequately protecting the human rights of their constituents and respecting everyone else’s human rights. Okay? So my view states he’s right that I think states are not consensual entities, but I think they’re real and they’re extremely important because they’re necessary instruments to secure human rights.
What do I mean by human rights? They’re the protections against the standard threats to living a minimally decent human life in modern society. Okay? So it seems to me the reason why I picked Norway as a paradigmatic candidate for a legitimate state is because it says does such a good job protecting the human rights of its constituents and respecting the rights of others. Now, what about refugees? I absolutely think that Norway has a duty to do its fair share for the refugees, okay, of the world.
What’s its fair share? You tell me and then I’ll come back and say but that doesn’t mean they necessarily have to allow refugees into their country. If they can provide refuge elsewhere, fine. If they want to let people into the country and give refuse there, fine. There’s a large Pakistani community in Oslo for instance. If they want to pay some other country to take them in refuge there, fine. So I absolutely think that the Norwegians have a duty to these desperate refugees but I don’t think that means they need to open their borders to them.
Migration, so I do think that … So I agree with the human rights documents. I think that there is a human right to freedom of movement. Okay? And I’d be fine with saying … And so for me so for instance I think of a human right as a protection against the standard threat to minimally decent human life. What that means is you have to have sufficient freedom of movement. All right? So you can’t be imprisoned, you can’t be in a tiny plot of land or things like that. But if, like I live in St. Louis, okay. So if for instance the eastern part of the state everything east of the Mississippi seceded and said we’re not going to let any Westerners come into the eastern part of what used to be the United States I wouldn’t think my human rights were being violated because I got plenty …
Or if California became its own country and I could move freely around in California I wouldn’t think my freedom of movement, my human right to freedom of movement was being denied. Now I absolutely agree with Bryan that the Haitians tragically have their human rights being disrespected. I’m not trying to defend the status quo at all but the problem is not their limited freedom of movement, it’s the limited options that they have there.
Bryan Caplan: But the most important is their limit on the freedom of movement. so you know just to go back to a point you made on is it really more realistic to expect the United States to let people in rather than just get money. So like private remittances from immigrants exceed all foreign aid given by the US government and there are many poor countries where almost everyone who from that country that has managed to get to middle class standard has done so by leaving. You know, migration is actually the most effective anti-poverty program currently operating on earth. So I don’t see why you would think that it’s unrealistic to expand that rather than push harder in something that has very little support and has done very little.
Male: Professor Caplan, right here. Hi, Turner Nevitt. Assistant Professor of philosophy, not associate yet. That’d be nice. I have a simple question. I think I already know what the answer will be but I just want to know what you consider the limits to the right of free association? it seemed like the real thrust of your argument was that you have the freedom to associate with foreigners but it seems like you could invite everyone outside of your country to come to your house and we say no you don’t have the right to do that.
Is the only limit you place on your right to associate with foreigners the point at which doing so would have worse effects than not or is there some other limit to your freedom to associate with foreigners?
Bryan Caplan: [Inaudible 01:13:54] I also would focus on the right to the foreigners to come, because you know there are plenty of people here that would like to interact with them. In terms of …
Male: What’s the reason for that though? So you said they have a right because other people want them to come. So …
Bryan Caplan: Yes.
Male: … the only force of their right in your argument comes from the right of me to associate with foreigners. So, what are the limits to that? Unless you think that they have a right independently of my desire to associate with them. But you gave no reason for that at all.
Bryan Caplan: All right. So yeah, I see what you’re saying. So, you know what I would say is if literally zero people in the country had any interest in associating with immigrants there’d be no way for them to actually come because then they would be trespassing. Again, so you know, if yes. So in other words, if zero people in the United States wanted to have anything to do with foreigners there’s no way they could be here because they could be on the streets. There’s no way they could get a job or go anywhere without actually trespassing on someone. Again that is such an unreasonable scenario because of course there are tons of people that would like to hire them, would like to go and sell them things or like to rent them.
In terms of what are the limits, I would just go back to my general principle which is you know it’s a fundamental right. But if the consequences of it are or truly awful then that would vitiate the right. So it’s only prima facie.
Male: Could I just ask a follow up question?
Bryan Caplan: Yes. Sure.
Male: Is your view that if no person in the United States desires to associate with foreigners, foreigners therefore have no right to immigrate into the United States? Is that your view?
Bryan Caplan: Let’s see, so public property aside then yes that is my view.
Christopher W.: I don’t think you want to say that deal I don’t think you want to say that because then I don’t think it becomes a human — it’s no longer a human right. So say no.
Bryan Caplan: No. Yes, I’m going to bite the extreme hypothetical, the bold of the extreme hypothetical below you. Like I said, there are three fundamental positions you can have on the right to immigrate. You have the right to come even if the person you’re visiting does not consent. You have the right to come only if they consent. Or you don’t have the right to come even if they do consent. And since my position is the second one it would follow, that while zero people were willing to consent to you coming then it would not violate your rights you couldn’t come. But again, this would be like you know if zero people wanted to be your friend well then at the end of that you say well you don’t have a right to a friend but that again that’s a extremely and plausible scenario that zero people would want to be your friend.
Male: But you do have a right to a friend. [Crosstalk 01:16:21] … If you’re innocent then you have a right not to be killed …
Bryan Caplan: Not being killed is different from having a friend. Is it not? I think so.
Male: But the point is that if you human right then everyone denies it, they’re all wrong.
Bryan Caplan: Again, it’s just so … You have the right to associate with anyone that wants to associate with you. So on this I would say I agree with Wellman. It’s just that when you put it the level of countries then people very quickly are down to zero options. As long as individuals that everybody has tons of options because they’re actually this great variation in the willingness of people to associate with others.
Male: Good evening. What is the United Nations’ policy on immigration and international law on immigration?
Bryan Caplan: So I think you get this more than I do. My short answer would just be it’s wrong. But as Kit said, so the United Nations recognizes right to move freely inside of countries. As I said strange the Soviet Union signed this document when it manifestly did not actually respect that right. And then other than other than that you’ve got nothing. But again since this is this is a debate about [inaudible 01:17:39] morality not law, so I’m very happy to say the law is just evil.
Christopher W.: Yeah. So I think Bryan is absolutely right that we shouldn’t read the morality off the legality, especially when we see who the authors of the laws are. But the laws as I understand it are only accommodating to this extent. If somebody comes to you and she can establish that she’s an asylum seeker you may not send her back to the country from which she’s seeking asylum. That’s as accommodating as it is. And then Bryan’s going to say that doesn’t mean that’s what the moral truth is this is a bunch of corrupt governments that are just covering their own butts.
Bryan Caplan: Yes also striking, so my understanding the document is that precisely because someone who’s fleeing from a terrible country may not be able to get permission it’s actually legal to come without any papers if you’re an asylum seeker. According to the ideations.
Female: Hi, over here. I have a question and I’m going to pose it to each of you but in a different way. I just want to expand on examples that you already made. So for your example you said that it’s my right as an individual if I want to invite someone from another country and it’s their right to be here. but if that’s impacting then the larger group and say you do invite every single person in Haiti would that not affect everyone else and could that not infringe on their human rights? Do you see what I’m saying?
Bryan Caplan: You want to do the question sequentially or [crosstalk 01:19:09] …
Female: Unless you want … I can either way.
Bryan Caplan: So, assuming if I were to invite every single person in Haiti, so again those. So physically impossible given what I actually own I couldn’t actually invite them all onto my property or employ all of them. I guess I could employ them at a very low wage. Although, I mean …
Female: Yeah but you as an individual …
Bryan Caplan: I should take that back actually. So if I were actually free to bring anyone I want I could easily go and borrow enough money to buy an enormous amount of housing and I really could actually house all of them. I’d be rich very, very quickly if I could actually get people in the country just by virtue of renting them an apartment. But, you know, but your real question is wouldn’t that actually infringe on the on the human rights of others. So again as I said, you know, this is only a prima facie right if there really would be terrible consequences for others. Then I will say that case, the right is not there.
Although I would say so what are these bad consequences supposed to be if I’m actually say renting everybody an apartment. Then what are they going to do? They’re going to come here, they’re going to get a job, they’re going to work and what’s so bad about that. Again of course if they were or if they were terrorists or some weird scenario then I’d be concerned .but again I’d just say that they look like the scary scenarios like that are not very realistic. So [crosstalk 01:20:21] …
Female: We’ve been using unrealistic examples like everyone in the US doesn’t want anyone else here so I feel like it’s okay to use an extreme example.
Bryan Caplan: Yeah, to prove a point right but in order to predict what would actually happen. That’s why I say it’s not very relevant.
Female: Okay and I wanted to ask because you’re saying that an individual does not have the right and then the state is not making the right for everybody as individuals, right. So if we expand that one step further and then you were to say okay if the United States has the right yes or no because they’re speaking, the government is speaking on half of all the individuals.
But if that would then infringe on the rights of say on a global scale if the entire world was impacted, human rights was impacted in some way the rest of the world was by the United States decision to say yes or no do they still have that right.
Christopher W.: So very complicated but I think no. so think for instance if the United States, if all Americans get together and we vote and we say what kind of emissions do we want to create and we poke a hole in the ozone and this has profound negative effects for others and they’re losing their land. We can’t claim oh it’s a matter of our self-determination right. So self-determination would not prevail in a context like that. Where you draw the line is incredibly difficult so I don’t want to just use that one example and pretend like it’s easy.
Female: Right.
Christopher W.: But I think you’re gesturing to a very important limitation on someone trying to invoke the principle of political self-determination.
Female: Thank you.
Female: Hi, so my question is more towards Professor Wellman but you are both free to answer it if you want to. So my question is what right does the group have to claim portions of the earth if we perhaps assume that the earth and all its resources is the commons? if you do not believe this then does that then mean to claim territory as a human right and what gives the group who by no fault or virtue their own were born where they were the right to keep others out? So I guess it’s like three questions.
Christopher W.: Three tough questions. Okay, so I start with a presumption that anyone can go anywhere in the globe. I agree that initially as a commons and it seems like there are three types of things that could restrict that. One is occupancy, two is property, and three is political self-determination. Okay?
Female: So the differentiation between property isn’t like you owning a home and then somebody who’s born in the United States for instance like me who did nothing to be born in the United States say for like being lucky, right place, right time. I just don’t see that being like a legitimate comparison.
Christopher W.: Good. Okay. So I’m not trying to compare them and I think each of these three is difficult. So you could imagine like was it George Somers came across Bermuda. It was unoccupied politically unaffiliated and unknown. Easy-peasy. He can stay there and he and his peeps can stay there and it violates no rights. Okay? If you’ve got some account of ownership it might be owned but not occupied and that would explain why he’s not allowed to stay there. It could be occupied without a political state but there’s so many people there that already got there that the next people that come later, there’s no space for. Okay?
And then third, and this is the controversial, and I don’t know what Bryan’s views are on property and I don’t know what his views are on occupancy. The difference between Bryan and me for the purposes of the debate is there’s a third principle that I’m invoking which has to do with territorial jurisdiction. So if there’s a group maybe they don’t own all the land and maybe they’re not so densely populated that they can claim oh you can’t come in because it’s already occupied. but if they’ve got a political community that presides over the entire island, right, what I want to claim is that and this is controversial if someone’s going to come and stay for more than three years then she needs to be included in the political community.
This impacts everyone in the community. And so the community as a whole gets to say of newcomers whether they can stay or not. so that’s really where the rub is between Bryan and I. But the property stuff is difficult, the occupancy stuff is difficult and as you’ve seen for the last hour and 15 minutes, the political self-determination stuff can be contested.
Bryan Caplan: Quick question for you. So, you have free association like a golf club, you don’t seem to have any problem with there being some people that golf that are members and other people who are janitors. And the janitors never get to become members, they may actually not … Maybe the members will never let them in, maybe that you have to pay so much money they could never do it or maybe the current members will just turn them down because they don’t want to play golf with them. And that seems to violate this principle. So why only … If you’re willing to let a golf club have permanent non-members, why not a country?
Christopher W.: Because the golf clubs not coercively imposed on someone. That’s why the democratic principle that I was invoking is distinctive to political territory because it’s a non-court. As you have quoted several times now right, I agree that political communities are not consensual.
Bryan Caplan: And somehow because it’s non-consensual then the out group members are treated worse.
Matt Zwolinski: We’ve got time for one more question and then and then we’re going to announce the results of the …
Female: Okay. I think I have the last question. It’s for Professor Wellman but really both can respond. If we could collectively decide group membership, that is who belongs and who doesn’t, by voting on our phones or sending a tweet this would be more representative of a pure democracy. However, as resident members of the United States we are under self-determination of a leader who is directing a flow of global citizenship in a way that is disruptive. What are the philosophical implications for global citizenship?
Christopher W.: Okay. So two things there one of which I don’t know and the second of which I definitely don’t know. So you’re right there’s a difference between participatory democracy and representative democracy. Where a participatory democracy we decide things, we all get to decide things. Like for instance, a referendum that they have in Scotland whether or not they want to secede as opposed to electing someone who then decides whether or not they secede. And there are advantages and disadvantages and I have no fancy story about when things have to be decided in a participatory fashion and when as a matter of principle it’s permissible for them to be decided by our duly elected representatives.
What are the implications for global citizenship? I don’t know what global citizenship is so I’m happy to try and answer your question if you said more about that but I’m not going to just blather on.
Female: I guess it’s another debate.
Christopher W.: How do you conceive of global citizenship?
Female: That people can freely move about and when there’s a term called global citizen. And that means that they can do commerce, they can get an education, they can have a better life, they have a freedom as an individual to contribute and to take the benefits of wherever they choose to reside. And so the philosophical implications have to do with human rights but they also have to do with political law.
Bryan Caplan: Yes, I mean, I guess just respond to your first question. So one of the main areas that I actually work on is economists as public opinion. And my verdict on public opinion is the public is extremely anti-immigration. The immigration that we have is probably quite a bit more than American voters want. Now most people look at that and say see this is terrible that were letting somebody in my. View is no it’s terrible that people think this way. But I don’t think that just doing or making more direct would actually improve anything. I think would make it worse actually.
Matt Zwolinski: So, I’m a little biased because I set this whole thing up. But I think that was a pretty fantastic conversation and I would like to thank our two debaters for a beautiful model of civil reasoned discourse. And I’d also like to thank Dr. Tim McCarty for his services as moderator. And while I’m thanking people I’m going to also thank the John Templeton Foundation and Institute for Humane Studies for their generous support of tonight’s event.
Okay so the moment you’ve been waiting for. And by the way, I can drag this out a little bit longer. There’s also a survey that if you’d be very kind and fill out. You don’t have to do tonight but anytime in the next couple of days if you want to share your thoughts about tonight’s events or about future events, we’d very much appreciate the feedbacks. You could just go to the URL on the bottom of that slide there.
Okay, so, before the debate we polled you about the motion immigration is a human right. At that time, 46 of you said yes it is, 12 of you said no it is not. After the debate, 28 of you said yes it is, 24 said that it is not. So the negative motion has carried the evening and takes its place and the platonic heaven of truth. So, thank you all for your participation. Again, thank you for coming out tonight, thanks to our debaters. Have a great evening.