IUPUI‘s Scott Pegg assigned Open Borders this semester, and kindly gave me permission to post the following essay questions on the book.  Enjoy!


Please answer one of the following four questions. Because this is an open book, open time assignment, I expect to see some detail and specificity in your answers. References to Caplan and Weinersmith’s book Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration should be made whichever question you choose. Your answers should be somewhere in the vicinity of 3-5 pages double-spaced typed in Times New Roman 12 point font. Take as much time as you need to answer the question. This is not a timed exam.

1) Explain why Caplan and Weinersmith believe that “open borders has jaw-dropping potential to enrich migrants and natives alike” and “is a shortcut to global prosperity.” Upon what causal logic or what empirical findings do they base these claims? How does open borders compare in this regard to other potentially enriching policy changes like freer trade or greater global financial integration that we could pursue? Indicate whether you find Caplan and Weinersmith’s arguments that open borders potentially offers the prospect of “trillion-dollar bills on the sidewalk” convincing or not.

2) In 2016, Americans elected Donald Trump as their president. One of his central campaign promises was to restrict immigration into the United States and build a wall to keep immigrants out. In 2020, President Trump faces a tough re-election battle but will likely carry the state of Indiana where we live easily. Given that, it’s probably not unreasonable to assume that give or take a majority of students in this class share views on immigration that are closer to President Trump’s than they are to the views expressed by Caplan and Weinersmith in Open Borders. Highlight which arguments put forward in Open Borders you most disagree with or find the most problematic and explain why. Make, develop, and support the best critique of the ideas put forward in this book that you can.

3) In attempting to make their case for a more open and less restrictive system of immigration, Caplan and Weinersmith consider several objections to open borders including immigrants threats to low-wage workers, freedom, our government’s fiscal position, our culture or way of life and even lowering our average national intelligence (IQ) score. Give specific examples of how Caplan and Weinersmith undermine these critiques or sources of opposition to their ideas or what they suggest as solutions to overcome these fears. Indicate which criticisms, if any, you think they effectively address and which criticisms, if any, are still strong or effective arguments against open borders.

4) Open Borders is premised upon the idea that “we live in a world of global apartheid. An apartheid based not on the race of your parents but on the nation of your parents.” Caplan and Weinersmith go on to argue that “It’s wrong to tell people where they can live or work because they are black… or women… or Jews. Why isn’t it equally wrong to tell people where they can live or work because they were born in Mexico, Haiti or India?” While these sentiments appeal to our better angels, they are completely unrealistic at a time when the US doesn’t even have open borders with Canada. Explain why Caplan and Weinersmith believe that “even if open borders never wins, the ideal can still serve as our moral compass.” What kind of progress can we or should we make short of fully opening borders?

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