Monday, December 24, 2018

Locke's Open Borders Immigration Policy as Cultural Group Selection

The Human Freedom Index explains the global patterns of migration:  people in countries with a low freedom ranking want to leave and migrate to countries with a high freedom ranking.  Syria is at the absolute bottom of the Human Freedom Index for 2018--the least free of the 162 countries ranked--and much of the migration out of the Middle East in recent years has been from Syria, as these migrants have tried to reach the countries in Europe and North America that rank high for freedom.  People in the countries in Central America ranking low in freedom--Honduras (92th), Guatemala (66th), and Mexico (75th)--want to enter the United States (17th) or Canada (5th).  As far as I know, there aren't a lot of Honduran migrants trying to cross the border into Venezuela, which ranks at 161 of the HFI, just above Syria.

As a consequence of this migration towards freedom, there is a stunning correlation between a country ranking high on the HFI and the country having a high proportion of its population being either immigrants or native-born offspring of immigrants.  For New Zealand--the number one country on the HFI--the proportion is almost half!  For Switzerland--the number two country--the proportion is 45%.  For Canada, it's 38%.  For the U.S., it's 25%.

While travelling around New Zealand last summer, I was amazed by how many of the New Zealanders I met were immigrants or children of immigrants.  Some of them told me that they had wanted to immigrate to the United States, but when they found the barriers to immigration too high, they chose New Zealand instead.  They were puzzled as to why America was closing its borders to immigration.  But many of them had decided that New Zealand was a better choice for them after all, because it offered more freedom to live their lives as they wished.

What we see here is what evolutionary scientists call cultural group selection through migration and assimilation, in which countries with cultural traditions of freedom have higher fitness than countries that are less free.  John Locke understood this, which is why he argued that free societies benefited from having open borders, so that they could attract migrants from less free societies.  The freer societies with a growing population of productive and inventive people become the more prosperous societies.  While countries like New Zealand have adopted the Lockean liberal immigration policy, the United States under the rule of Trump the Nationalist is raising barriers to immigration, which means that if the United States continues to move away from Lockean liberalism, it will become a loser in this evolutionary process of cultural group selection, in which people vote with their feet in favor of freedom.


In his chapter on property in the Second Treatise, Locke claims that the great source of useful commodities for human life is human labor and industry.  "Unassisted nature" gives us acorns, water, and skins, while human labor gives us bread, wine, and cloth for our food, drink, and clothing.  Land left wholly to nature has little value for us until it has been improved by the human labor of pasturage, tilling, or planting.  Locke then writes:
"This shews, how much numbers of men are to be preferred to largenesse of dominions, and that the increase of lands [hands?] and the right imploying of them is the great art of government.  And that Prince who shall be so wise and godlike as by established laws of liberty to secure protection and incouragement to the honest industry of Mankind against the oppression of power and narrownesse of Party will quickly be too hard for his neighbours" (sec. 42).
Christ's College Cambridge has a copy of the 1698 edition of Locke's Two Treatises with Locke's handwritten annotations, although some scholars doubt that this is Locke's own handwriting.  This book is now available online.  If you look at sec. 42, page 197, you will see that the passage quoted above was written into the margin.  So it's likely that Locke made this addition to his text sometime after 1698, while Locke was working at the Board of Trade.  At this time King William III's government was in conflict with France, and Locke was recommending (in his economic writings of the time) that increased population was a better source of power than expanded territory.

The reference to a "godlike" Prince seems oddly contrary to Locke's rejection of divine right of kings, but his meaning is clarified by passages in the First Treatise (secs. 33, 41), where God's command to Noah and his sons in Genesis 9:1 to "be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the Earth" is identified by Locke as "the great design of God."  This supports Locke's policy for increasing population and his argument that one of the bad effects of absolute monarchy, as in France, is declining population.

As Brian Smith (2018) has indicated in an insightful article, the reference in this passage to "increase of lands" seems to be better understood as "increase of hands."  He shows that this is supported by what Locke says about the benefits of increasing population in some of his other essays.   In his "Essay on Toleration" (1667), Locke argued that toleration increased immigration, which increased population and commerce.  "As to promoting the welfare of the kingdom which consists in riches and power, to this most immediately conduces the number and industry of your subjects" (Locke 2010, 122).  This became evident in 1685, when King Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes, which had granted some toleration of Calvinist Protestants in Catholic France in 1598.  This created an exodus of French Protestants, also called Huguenots, who were forced to migrate to England and elsewhere.

In his essay on "Trade" (1674), Locke asserted: "Power consists in numbers of men, and the ability to maintain them.  Trade conduces to both of these by increasing your stock and your people, and they each other" (Locke 1997, 222).

Locke's most important writing on his liberal policy for what he called the "easy naturalization" of immigrants is his essay "For a General Naturalization," which is dated around 1693, although it was not published until about 30 years ago, in an article by David Resnick (1987).  In response to the large influx of immigrants to England at the end of the 17th century, including the French Huguenots, there were several "general naturalization" bills introduced into Parliament.  The bill introduced in 1693 was most famous because of the speech by Sir John Knight attacking it.  Knight's published speech was so vehement that it was condemned by Parliament as libelous, and Parliament ordered that it be burned in public by the common hangman.

Knight complained that immigrants would compete with native English laborers for jobs, which would lower their wages and drive them into starvation, and this would provoke outrage from the English people.  He also warned that foreigners could not be loyal English citizens.  Other critics argued that any general naturalization law would be a threat to the ethnic identity of the English race, because they would intermarry with native English people, which would lead to the extinction of the English race.

"For a General Naturalization" was probably written in support of the general naturalization bill of 1693.  "Naturalization is the shortest and easiest way of increasing your people," Locke declared at the beginning of the essay. Increasing population is important, he explained, because "people are the strength of any country or government," and it's "the number of people that make the riches of any country" (Locke 1997, 322).

He thought that this was illustrated by the difference between Holland and Spain:
"The latter having all the advantages of situation and the yearly afflux of wealth out of its own dominions [the silver imports from Spanish America], yet is for want of hands the poorest country in Europe.  The other [is] ill situate[d] but being crammed with people [is] abounding in riches . . . And I ask whether England if half its people should be taken away would not portionably decay in its strength and riches notwithstanding the advantages it has in its situation, ports, and the temper of its people" (Locke 1997, 322-23).
So, despite Spain's extensive colonial land holdings in the New World, Spanish tyranny creates a "want of hands" that make Spain poor.  Holland is "crammed with people," because it is a free and tolerant country that attracts immigrants from Spain and other countries that are less free and tolerant.  Even Locke had to escape to Holland to avoid arrest for treason in England. And Holland's vigorous trade and commerce make it prosperous.  In "For a General Naturalization," Locke writes: "The riches of the world do not lie in formerly having large tracts of land, which supplied abundantly the native convenience of eating and drinking [such] as plenty of corn and large flocks and herds.  But in trade, which brings money and with that all things" (Locke 1997, 323).

In this short essay of no more than four pages, the word "hands" appears 8 times, which sustains Brian Smith's claim that in the "art of government" passage of the Second Treatise, the "increase of lands" phrase must really mean "increase of hands."  Moreover, in this essay, Locke indicated that "hands" are needed not just for agricultural work but even more for the manufacture of commodities and for the carriage and navigation necessary for trade.

In this essay, Locke answers four objections to his recommended policy for general naturalization and open borders.  The first objection is that "we shall not have artisans come over to be naturalized but idle people" (1997, 324).  Locke answers by pointing out that no one can migrate to another country with the expectation that they will live upon other people's labor.  If there are laws for maintaining the poor, they do not have to be open to foreigners.  And if these laws for maintaining the poor do encourage immigrants to be idle, that is a mistake in the laws: "If by poor are meant such as want relief and being idle themselves live upon the labour of others; if there be any such poor amongst us already who are able to work and do not, 'tis a shame to the government and a fault in our constitution and ought to be remedied" (1997, 326).

A second objection is that we have too many people already.  But no one can say that who sees that Holland has twice the population of England, and Holland is rich.  Moreover, if a country is already so full of people that artisans and laborers cannot live better there than in their home countries, one need not fear their migration, because people will not move to another country to be worse off.  Immigration, therefore, is self-regulating, because people have no personal incentive to migrate to countries that already have too many people.

A third objection is "that they eat the bread out of our own people's mouths."  But this is "no further true than it is a confession that they work cheaper or better, for nobody will leave his neighbor to use a foreigner but for one of those reasons, and can that be counted an inconvenience which will bring down the unreasonable rates of your own people or force them to work better?  Want of people raises their price and makes them both dear and careless." (1997, 325).  So, again, immigration is self-regulating in that immigrants will be attracted to countries with a high demand for labor manifest in high wages, and if immigration drives wages down, then immigration will stop.  Even Donald Trump employs illegal immigrants at his golf court resorts because he cannot find native Americans to fill the jobs.

A fourth objection implicitly acknowledged in Locke's essay is that immigrants will not be assimilated into English society.  Once immigrants are naturalized, Locke answers,
"they are then in interest as much our own people as any.  The only odds is their language, which will be cured too in their children, and they be as perfect Englishmen as those that have been here ever since William the Conqueror's days and came over with him.  For 'tis hardly to be doubted but that most of even our ancestors were foreigners" (1997, 325).
If immigrants do not speak English, that will impede their assimilation into English culture, but their children will speak English, and thus become "perfect Englishmen."  After all, most Englishmen are descended from foreign ancestors.

Notice also that contrary to the claims of the illiberal nationalists, Lockean liberalism can recognize the importance of the national identities that distinguish one people from another, because here Locke recognizes the cultural identity of the English people as a distinct nation rooted in the English language and other cultural traditions that have emerged from the cultural history of England.


Within the past 25 years, evolutionary theorists--such as Robert Boyd and Peter Richerson--have seen that Locke was right about immigration, and that cultural group selection (CGS) working through selective migration and assimilation has favored the spread of Lockean liberal culture around the world (Boyd & Richerson 2009; Richerson & Boyd 2008).  This confirms what I have argued in various posts about the evolutionary history of Lockean liberalism as symbolic niche construction (herehere, and here).

This is the evolutionary explanation for what Francis Fukuyama famously called "the end of history."  Lockean liberalism so fully satisfies the natural desires of evolved human nature that all illiberal social orders must fail in the long run to attract adherents.  One good indication of this is that even those recent critics of liberalism like Patrick Deneen and Rod Dreher actually turn out to implicitly endorse the liberalism of open societies.  I have written about this herehere, and here.

Boyd and Richerson conclude: "Human migration is nonrandom.  In small-scale societies of the past, and in the modern world, people tend to move to wealthier, safer, and more just societies from poorer, more violent, less just societies.  If immigrants are assimilated, such nonrandom migration can increase the occurrence of culturally transmitted beliefs, values, and institutions that cause societies to be attractive to immigrants" (2009, 331).  Contrary to what Friedrich Hayek said about modern open societies having to repress the tribal instincts shaped in our prehistoric past, Richerson and Boyd see that "the free enterprise societies' combination of individual autonomy, wealth, and welfare bear a strong resemblance to the prefcrences that are rooted in our ancient and tribal social instincts" (2008, 134).

If so, then Spinoza was right about a liberal capitalist democracy being the best form of social order, because it best approximates the freedom that human beings enjoyed in the evolutionary state of nature of our hunter-gatherer ancestors.  (I have written about this here and here.)

As suggested by both Locke and Boyd and Richerson, the success of cultural group selection through immigration depends on immigrants becoming assimilated into their new national cultures.  Recently, some commentators have worried that immigrants today no longer assimilate as well as earlier generations of immigrants.  But a lot of research has shown that while assimilation is never perfect, it does happen over time.  Through ethnic attrition, immigrants intermarry, and the children of these intermarriages become ever more assimilated into the new culture.  Moreover, as Locke indicated, even if the first immigrants speak a foreign language, the children of immigrants easily learn the language of their new country.  Much of this research on the assimilation of immigrants has been surveyed by Alex Nowrasteh.

In a liberal open society, the assimilation of immigrants does not require the obliteration of the communal identity of immigrants.  After all, one of the primary reasons why people immigrate to free and tolerant societies is so that they can live in their distinctive moral and religious communities without persecution.  The immigration of groups like the Anabaptists and the Chaldeans to the United States illustrate this.  I have written about the Chaldeans here.


Boyd, Robert, and Peter J. Peterson. 2009. "Voting With Your Feet: Payoff Biased Migration and the Evolution of Group Beneficial Behavior." Journal of Theoretical Biology 257: 331-39.

Locke, John. 1997. Political Essays. Ed. Mark Goldie. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Locke, John. 2010. A Letter Concerning Toleration and Other Writings. Ed. Mark Goldie. Indianapolis: Liberty Fund.

Resnick, David. 1987. "John Locke and the Problem of Naturalization." Review of Politics 49: 368-88.

Richerson, Peter J., and Robert Boyd. 2008. "The Evolution of Free Enterprise Values." In Paul J. Zak, ed., Moral Markets: The Critical Role of Values in the Economy, 107-41.

Smith, Brian. 2018. "Hands, Not Lands: John Locke, Immigration, and the 'Great Art of Government,'"  History of Political Thought 39: 465-90.


Unknown said...

Couldn’t agree more!

bjdubbs said...

Qatar must be really free because it's 88% foreign born. Singapore must also be really free because the foreign born in Singapore is 46%.

Larry Arnhart said...

On the latest HFI, Qatar ranks 103 out of 162, Singapore ranks 25. The highest percentage of foreign born residents occurs in small wealthy countries with large numbers of temporary foreign workers who cannot become citizens.