Open Borders, by Caplan and Weinersmith

Saturday November 9, 2019

I'd heard about some of Caplan's books, but I hadn't read any until the guy who does SMBC advertised the one he worked with Caplan on. It's a comic book that reads in an evening. I'm glad it's out there, but I'm not sure the book will change many minds.

The first chapter is called "Global Apartheid," which seems to be typical of Caplan's flare for the provocative. I don't think the current system of national borders is quite the same as apartheid. I didn't think it was a good choice to start the book with this heading, which risks destroying the appearance of arguing in good faith.

The comic medium can probably be persuasive, but this book sometimes prioritizes cartoon over argument. For example, on page 34 a central result from a paper by Clemens is mentioned, and the next four pages illustrate the largeness of an amount of money, while I still wasn't convinced about how the result was obtained.

It sometimes seems that Caplan isn't aware of how he might sound to readers. On page 36:

"Open borders isn't 'trickle-down economics.' It's Niagara Falls economics!"

Caplan is pictured going over Niagara Falls in an open barrel. Is this supposed to be a good thing? If you think trickle-down economics is a fraud, is this larger version a bigger fraud? The comparison and imagery are not effective.

On page 39, Caplan jokes (?) that if not for borders being relatively open for academics, he would work at Harvard rather than George Mason University. This suggests a "yes, some people won't get their preferred jobs" discussion, which isn't addressed.

I was hoping to find a compelling book that argues strongly for open borders. This one does introduce a lot of arguments, and it may even be correct throughout, but the overall effect is not as coherent and convincing as I had hoped it would be.

Open Borders (cover)