This is a personal statement by Vipul Naik (written by him in first person), the founder and one of the occasional bloggers (earlier one of the regular bloggers) for the Open Borders website. For all blog posts by Vipul Naik, see here. Naik stepped down from regular blogging in September 2013. For the overall site story, see here.
History of attitude to open borders
I hail from India, where immigration is not a salient political issue at a national level. When I was young, I didn’t give global migration or its morality much thought. Around 2008-2009, I started identifying as a libertarian, and for this reason, I was somewhat sympathetic to free migration, but I did not give the issue much specific thought. In April 2010, I started reading EconLog. Bryan Caplan’s writing as well as the other work he pointed to (notably that by Michael Clemens) shifted me in a pro-open borders direction.
Reasons and goals in launching the site (work began February 2012, launch was in March 2012)
While Caplan’s posts were individually very well written, it was hard to get a comprehensive picture of exactly where the debate on open borders stood by reading any individual post. I wanted a website where all the arguments for and against open borders were presented systematically in an easy-to-browse fashion, so that people could readily switch back and forth between the big picture and individual details. The goal would not be (at least at the outset) to make path-breaking new contributions, but simply to collate the wealth of information already out there. The timing was quite good. Just a couple years ago, many of the references in the pro-open borders reading list hadn’t been written.
There were a number of reasons why I wished to launch a separate website related to open borders.
Charitable treatment of restrictionist arguments
Caplan was influential not only in terms of the content of pro-open borders arguments, but also in terms of style and tone. His “Christian” approach and his charitable and measured response to critics was something I sought to emulate. I tried to follow these key principles:
- Despite the obviously non-neutral nature of the website, I would try to describe the assertions of advocates, restrictionists, and others, in a neutral tone of voice.
- When stating a restrictionist argument, my first goal would be to summarize it as a restrictionist would, with the most charitable framing. Then, I would provide links and quote material from the best restrictionist formulations of the argument, without stating objections during the quoting process. Only after this (“after” both in terms of creation chronology and layout of the final page) would I list counter-arguments and objections, again looking for the best and fairest of these. If there were further counter-counter-arguments, I would list these too.
- I would follow a similar procedure when stating a pro-open borders argument.
- In cases where the restrictionist case was indeed strong, I would state so clearly, while pointing to the many other factor that this would need to be balanced again to judge the overall case for open borders.
- In no case would I use epithets or dismissive labels to dismiss any argument, pro- or anti-immigration.
(Although these principles continue to apply to site backgrounder pages, for which I no longer have sole responsibility, we follow somewhat more relaxed principles in our blog posts, which feature more of the personal voice of the bloggers).
Separating the moral/ethical aspects from the practical aspects
As mentioned above, most of the pro-immigation and anti-immigration websites are focused on the practical and factual aspects. The moral and ethical issues are typically mentioned only tangentially. Normative ethical premises are often not clearly laid out. With the Open Borders website, I chose to give primacy to the moral case while at the same time trying to separate it from the nitty-gritties of the practical arguments.
Separating generic arguments from country-specific and era-specific arguments
Most websites dealing with migration issues do so from a very country-specific perspective. They are thus able to focus on the details of specific laws and concrete numbers. But it’s hard to separate out the country-specific aspects of their analysis from the generic arguments being made. With the Open Borders website, I’ve tried to separate out the generic arguments from the country-specific arguments. Since country-specific arguments already receive so much attention elsewhere, building the country-specific pages typically requires linking to existing resources. As of November 2012, all the country-specific pages are US-specific, but this may change with time as more content is added.
For examples of this distinction, see crime (generic) versus Hispanic crime and illegal immigration in the United States (US-specific). Or see suppression of wages of natives (generic) versus US-specific suppression of wages of natives (US-specific).
Future plans for involvement with open borders, both the website and the cause
When I originally launched the website, I saw it more as an informational resource than a blog. At the time, I hadn’t expected to be able to attract a large number of contributors. Over time, the character of the website has changed, and at this stage, its main attraction to readers and contributors is its blog section. Nonetheless, I believe that the background material on the site serves as an important foundation for readers to understand the issue and for writers to build upon.
While I am glad to have played a foundational role in the creation of the website, I both hope and expect that as “open borders” becomes a wider and wider movement, my own role in the movement will become smaller in proportional terms. I started out with sole “janitorial” responsibility for the site, but this responsibility is now distributed among my regular co-bloggers. Nathan and I started out as sole bloggers for the site, but we now boast an impressive roster of regular, occasional, and guest bloggers.
My future blog posts on the site will be devoted to questions about the nexus between open borders and questions of rationality, prediction, cognitive bias, personal ethics, and moral philosophy. I seek to address many internal contradictions among open borders advocates and researchers, not necessarily in the hope of bringing about agreement, but rather, in the hope of clearly understanding the nature and causes of disagreement. In addition, I hope to continue to encourage and inspire more people to think about these issues in their spare time in order to identify the potential gains, losses, and possible keyhole solutions related to open borders.
UPDATE: In September 2013, I decided to switch from being a regular blogger to an “occasional blogger” for the site. This was intended to be with the goal of staying consistent with my contribution level in recent months and my expected contribution level for the foreseeable future. Due to a number of other work-related commitments, I will not be able to maintain the pace of posting expected of regular bloggers. Also, the Open Borders website now has a sufficiently large team of bloggers that I feel comfortable reducing my involvement with the site without fearing it will die. I’ll continue to be involved with site administrative issues, but will no longer play a principal role in these.