Public opinions on ‘Let anyone take a job anywhere’

I recently watched Intelligence Squared’s debate on the proposition “Let anyone take a job anywhere”.

It was a fun watch but more interesting was the voting pattern of the audience. Everyone was asked to vote for which side they were on: For or Against. This was done once at the start of the debate and once at the end. The team which saw the biggest improvement in support (in percentage points) was declared winner.

From the team arguing for the proposition, I thought Bryan Caplan did a decent job. Hence I was very surprised by the statistics.


The team which spoke against the motion won because of the huge positive vote differential. Not only that, it also had ended up with a significantly higher vote share than the team arguing for the motion in absolute terms (49% vs 42%). Most of the vote share was captured from the pool of people who were undecided about the issue of migration and open borders.

Caplan could have done a better job at countering the opposing team’s arguments. Possible counterpoints in brackets and italics. Specifically:

  1. Kathleen Newland said that we cannot have open borders because that would be chaotic. America, for example, would see a huge influx of migrants and that would  be unsustainable given the limits on infrastructure and other resources. (Well, no one advocates throwing open borders overnight. This could be done in a systematic manner with staggered limits on the number of immigrants) 
  2. Ron Unz said that the issue is that of simple demand and supply. If we would let millions and billions of workers into the US, the ordinary workers would suffer, as their wages would fall tremendously. According to Ron, any gains from free labor mobility would be “captured by 1%”. (The most pessimistic estimates in the economics literature are that in the long run only those natives who are high school dropouts seem to experience a wage decline of… you guessed it right- a mighty 4%. )

In any case, I just discovered a mind blowing website which organizes lots of literature making the case for Open Borders. Lots of reading left to do!

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