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Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration Paperback – October 29, 2019
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An Economist “Our Books of the Year” Selection
Economist Bryan Caplan makes a bold case for unrestricted immigration in this fact-filled graphic nonfiction.
American policy-makers have long been locked in a heated battle over whether, how many, and what kind of immigrants to allow to live and work in the country. Those in favor of welcoming more immigrants often cite humanitarian reasons, while those in favor of more restrictive laws argue the need to protect native citizens.
But economist Bryan Caplan adds a new, compelling perspective to the immigration debate: He argues that opening all borders could eliminate absolute poverty worldwide and usher in a booming worldwide economy―greatly benefiting humanity.
With a clear and conversational tone, exhaustive research, and vibrant illustrations by Zach Weinersmith, Open Borders makes the case for unrestricted immigration easy to follow and hard to deny.
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"Highly recommended―the most powerful an economic and moral argument on a fundamental issue I have ever read in graphic novel format and up there in any format."―Jason Furman
"A delightful tour of the arguments and evidence behind the debate [around open borders]... What’s refreshing about the way that Caplan responds to the likely criticisms of his thesis is that he’s thoughtful and generous. Nobody is accused or racism or some other less-than-pure motivation." ―Bloomberg Opinion
"[Caplan's] numbers-don’t-lie arguments are supported by comprehensive research...makes easy dismissal impossible. His partner-in-insight Weinersmith provides crisp, easy-to-grasp artistic support, with his own occasional insertions of humor." ―Booklist, starred review
"A highly effective way to talk about an issue that remains a nonstarter for so many nationwide." ―Kirkus
"Highly recommended for all libraries’ graphic novel collections and for teachers seeking alternatives to more didactic texts on immigration." ―School Library Journal
“A phenomenal achievement. [Open Borders] is a landmark in economic education, how to present economic ideas, and the integration of economic analysis and graphic visuals. I picked it up not knowing what to expect, and was blown away by the execution . . . This book is one of the very best explainers of the gains from trade idea ever produced, and it will teach virtually anyone a truly significant amount about the immigration issue, as well as economic analytics more generally.” ―Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
“An easy-to-read contrarian take from an economist who is right about most everything.” ―John Stossel
“A welcome counterpoint to the rampant fear-mongering that all too often dominates airwaves and political campaigns.” ―Paste Magazine
“A compelling contribution to the debate over one of the most significant issues of our time.” ―Reason
“Just like John Stuart Mill’s The Subjection of Women 150 years ago, this book advances a sustained argument so compelling that it just might shift the moral foundations of the world.” ―Scott Aaronson, University of Texas at Austin
“A tour de force graphic novel illustrating one fundamental truth: there’s nothing more American than being an immigrant.” ―Jeff Atwood, cofounder of Stack Overflow and Discourse.org
“Caplan and Weinersmith have pioneered a new format: a comic book that's quantitative and informative while remaining thoroughly entertaining. Whether you support more migration or not, Open Borders will quickly give you a balanced understanding of what serious research has to say about how open borders would affect America.” ―Robert Wiblin, director of research, 80,000 Hours
“A clear and inescapable economic, moral, and political case for reopening the borders that artfully counters the common objections.” ―John H. Cochrane, Hoover Institution at Stanford University
About the Author
Zach Weinersmith is the creator of the popular webcomic SMBC, the creator of the nerd comedy show BAHFest, and the co-author of the New York Times bestselling popular science book, Soonish. He is the artist of First Second's Open Borders and the writer of Bea Wolf, a modern comedic retelling of the classic Beowulf epic.
- Publisher : First Second (October 29, 2019)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 256 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1250316960
- ISBN-13 : 978-1250316967
- Reading age : 13 - 17 years
- Item Weight : 1.25 pounds
- Dimensions : 6.6 x 3.35 x 8.5 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #125,066 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
About the author
Reviewed in the United States on November 4, 2019
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Top reviews from the United States
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The first thing I want to say about this book and its reviews: Ignore the anti-immigration reviewers who are accusing the book of using a bunch of "straw-men" to misrepresent their true ideas (which they don't want to share, of course). As a public policy researcher, I've studied some immigration policy myself - the ideas used against immigration are generally not complex, nor nuanced, nor intelligent, frankly. Knee-jerk fear-motivated backlash rarely tends to be well-thought-out. I doubt a lot of them even know what a strawman is, aside from a word they throw around on the internet when they can't make another argument, but don't want to admit that their current arguments have been debunked.
Defense of the book aside, Caplan's libertarianism is a bit glaring at times, as is his training as an economist. His idealistic faith in the power of the free market and U.S. culture does seem a little bit magical at times. This ideological bent does not actually diminish any of his arguments, in my view, because, as flawed as the U.S. system is, his arguments are still true. Immigrants generally DO benefit from coming here, and the U.S. DOES benefit from having increased immigration. There are plenty of non-graphic-novel sources that you can find to back this up, if you are too uppity to accept truth just because it's drawn in a humorous way by an excellent artist.
Caplan's idealistic faith in the power and goodness of the U.S. economy DOES keep him, however, from making one of the more powerful arguments against closed borders (at least, in my opinion), which is that many U.S. companies (especially the agricultural industry) deliberately lobby for immigration restrictions while encouraging "illegal" immigration. Why? Because "illegal" immigrants have less freedom to compete in a supposedly "free market", and thus are easier to exploit! Illegal immigrants, out of fear of being arrested and losing an important source of income (however meager) for their families back home, are often subject to near-slavery (and in some cases, actual, literal slavery) by their employers. In addition to being horribly immoral, this system depresses wages for "legal" agricultural workers by giving employers the ability to easily undercut their wage demands by exploiting near-slave labor. Because these workers are paid under the table, less money goes into taxes as well. And as Caplan argues - young, ready-to-work immigrants, even with less education, are the most valuable for the U.S. economy, so forcing these folks into an exploitative 'shadow economy' is bad for everyone, even if it does mean you get to buy milk super cheap. The legal "work visa" system is not much better because, again, it restricts workers from competing in the market, thus depressing wages and opening them up to significant exploitation.
The solution to the problems I'm talking about is clearly not "more restrictions on immigration" or "more border cages", or "more roving paramilitary police squads for hunting down illegal immigrants" (which should be terrifying for any freedom-loving American - if they can hunt down other people and throw them in cages, they can do the same to you, just as easily). Neither of these solutions have worked, and we certainly have tried them. Instead, a clearer path to legal immigration (as would be the case with open borders) would lead to the economic benefits that Caplan expertly details in this book, while also addressing one of the rotten pockets of corrupt pseudo-capitalism that keep dragging this country down.
Some of the weak-points of this method, though, are due to the non-academic style. While there are notes at the back of the book, the argumentation does not use as long of sentences and it is a little bit harder to source things. Overall, these weaknesses do not feel all that bad compared to the advantages.
Now, as to the substance to the book. A quick summary: thoughtful discussion of the economic and human impact. The negative is that it argues for open borders based on extrapolation, whereas I think this is actually stronger argument for slowly increasing immigration and making sure the benefits keep accruing for all.
It is important to realize that it is advocating open borders and not "no borders", meaning foreigners should have the same amount of restrictions as natives for finding work in a country. The reasons for this are well-illustrated (metaphorically and literally) by quoting the economic arguments and showing that many of the cultural arguments have not been borne out by what's happened. The data is from good sources and the arguments are usually good. Thus, it makes a compelling case for open borders, overall. It was especially informative for me that it looks at the case for low-skilled immigrants. The argument is less clear-cut than for high-skilled immigrants, and I found the discussion very informative [I was happy to see that the author honestly included data of concern for his case, such as the illiberal views of low-skilled immigrants]. There is even a chapter that says if no open borders, then here is some policy that will encourage immigration but remove arguments against (such as immigrants not having access to the welfare state if that is a concern).
I still have some criticisms of the presentation, however. The book wants to argue that unrestricted immigration would be good based on what we know about restricted immigration [Often the arguments use simple multiplier theories that I find completely unconvincing. I doubt it would be easy to extrapolate, though I couldn't say if the non-linearity would be favorable or unfavorable towards more immigration]. It is not clear what would happen if open borders were implemented tomorrow all around the world with what we know now. There may be a critical ratio or number such that immigration could be harmful after exceeding some amount (there are plausible mechanisms such as infrastructure overload or the creation of small states within the state at large enough numbers [again, I am not saying this will happen, but just saying it cannot be ruled out since we don't have the data]) . It may or may not be, but without some country getting close to those limits we can't say with much confidence. I think if this were acknowledged the case would be more persuasive. [The book is highly US-centric, and looking at the Wikipedia list for foreign-born population, it looks like Australia is probably the highest percentage foreign-born that is democratic and fairly large. As far as I know, it also is mostly receptive to high-skill immigrants. If there are some counterexamples or data on countries with a large proportion of immigrants due to open-borders of some sort, I'd like to see it.]
Top reviews from other countries
Caplan methodically examines the case for open borders immigration from an economic and moral perspective, then proceeds to consider objections from financial, cultural and political standpoints. Sceptics of immigration should find that they get a fair hearing here - Caplan's goal is to take objections seriously and while he does of course land on open borders as a conclusion, he avoids being snide or insulting towards his detractors in the process.
Caplan then considers 'keyhole solutions' that could address concerns without restricting immigration, which pro-immigration folks should consider to temper out idealism with pragmatism. Finally, a range of moral arguments in favour of open borders are considered, ranging from utilitarianism to Christian ethics, demonstrating that the case for free immigration is robust across many ethical frameworks.
This book was delightfully entertaining to read and Weinersmith's illustrations are a perfect companion. I can't recommend this book enough - not just to fellow open borders shills, but also to those simply curious about the topic and interested to see where we're coming from.
It just seemed like the author took a really complex issue and tried to seriously simplify it, but it also felt like he was just basing it on his opinions while trying to back it up with facts. I don't live in the US, and I am not even close to being a US citizen, so maybe this doesn't even concern me, even though I am a huge advocate of opening up the borders, but...at the end of the day, Bryan Caplan wasn't able to convince me with his argument.
That is the problematic gist of this book and why open borders will never fly. The book is best read for giving the reasons why immigration can be a good thing. US-centric, but claims that open borders would work anywhere (tell that to Israelis who would quite likely be exterminated). Being in 'graphic novel' format means that kindle search, highlighting, font change etc. doesn't work which is a pity.