Enright on Caplan on Immigration

Sam Enright has written a good review of Bryan Caplan’s Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration. I like it for two main reasons: (1) he takes Bryan completely seriously and doesn’t take cheap shots, and, related to that, (2) the tone is quite nice.

I do have a number of criticisms, but I’ve been thinking about one main one. Enright writes:

I’m also concerned about the animal suffering that would result from open borders. Globally, the production of meat, 90% of which comes from factory farms, creates an almost unimaginable level of suffering. There are two reasons why open borders would make this worse: the Western diet is more meat-heavy than diets from other rich parts of the world, and richer people, in general, consume more animal protein. People sometimes talk about the meat-eater problem: many interventions in global development look much less cost-effective if you give moral concern to animals, since, if the interventions save human lives or make people better off, they lead to greater meat consumption. Increased demand for meat may be unusually harmful now, because it further entrenches factory farming as the default way meat is produced.

At first I found this criticism somewhat persuasive. The recent discussion between Bryan and philosopher Michael Huemer has caused me to be uncomfortable with factory farming and I’m starting to explore ways of eating meat, which I love, without eating meat from factory farms. I don’t buy the idea of rights of animals, but I think it is wrong to raise in animals in circumstances where they suffer for their whole lives.

But as I thought about it, I realized that this is not a good argument at all. Let’s say we could reduce the demand for factory farming by imposing draconian regulations that reduce Americans’ per capita income by 80 percent. Would that justify those regulations? I think not. So then how, if we accept the other parts of Bryan’s argument, can we justify, based on reducing factory farming, draconian immigration restrictions to keep many people’s income 80 percent lower than otherwise. Even if you think regulation is justified to reduce factory farming, shouldn’t the regulation be aimed, not at keeping people poor, but at reducing or ending factory farming?

I’ll have more to say about other parts of the review. But that is my biggest criticism of Enright’s review.

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