The Case for 50 Percent Open Borders
The Culture Transplant: How Migrants Make the Economies They Move to a Lot Like the Ones They Left, by Garett Jones, Stanford University Press, 228 pages, $25
Almost everyone will take Garett Jones’ The Culture Transplant as a forthright defense of not just maintaining existing immigration restrictions but tightening them. Every chapter strongly implies that liberal immigration policies are naïve and myopic. Jones, an economist at George Mason University (where I also teach), concludes by warning that admitting millions from the poorest nations will impoverish all humanity: “Innovation would decline overall, and since new innovations eventually spread out across the entire planet, the entire planet would eventually lose out.” Even his support for high-skilled immigration is restrained: Jones wants to welcome “immigrants who have substantially more education, more job skills, more pro-market attitudes, than the average citizen” (emphasis mine), and he advocates “instantaneous citizenship” for “one-in-a-thousand minds” such as “Nobel laureates, great writers, and innovative scientists.”
Yet Jones’ evidence argues for radical liberalization of immigration: if not fully open borders, then at least 50 percent open borders—at a time when borders are somewhere around 2 percent open. Using Jones’ hand-picked measure of cultural quality, immigration from all of the following countries to the United States would be, by his argument, a clear-cut cultural improvement: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Austria, Belarus, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, China, Costa Rica, Croatia, Denmark, Estonia, France, Germany, Greece, Hong Kong, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Latvia, Lithuania, Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Poland, Portugal, South Korea, Moldova, Russia, Singapore, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Thailand, Tunisia, Ukraine, the United Kingdom, Uruguay, and Vietnam. Using a slightly different cultural measure adds the 1.7 billion inhabitants of India and Pakistan to the list. According to the research upon which Jones rests his book, we should expect migration from this long and populous list of countries to (a) substantially increase per-capita U.S. gross domestic product (GDP), (b) drastically increase gross world product, and (c) drastically increase global economic growth.
This research is called the “Deep Roots of Growth,” or just “Deep Roots.” Its punchline is that countries now inhabited by people whose ancestors were relatively economically advanced in the distant past have a strong tendency to be absolutely advanced today. “Now inhabited” is key; according to Deep Roots research, a major reason the United States is rich today is that modern Americans are mostly descended from people who were rich by the standards of their time. Economically, it doesn’t matter that in 1500 A.D., the current area of the United States was largely populated by hunter-gatherers, because the descendants of these hunter-gatherers are now (for horrifying reasons) a tiny sliver of the population.
The initial Deep Roots papers focus on the emergence of agriculture and government. They conclude that the earlier a country’s ancestors adopted farming and states, the richer the country is today. Later work, which Jones prefers, focu
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