David R. Henderson  

Let Them In

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Jacob Hornberger has an interesting post today comparing Obama and FDR. FDR prevented Jews from immigrating from Europe in the late 1930s. Had he let them in, he would have saved lives. Obama's military is broadcasting to Haitians not to try to get into the United States because they will just be turned back.


Every day, a U.S. Air Force cargo plane spends 5 hours flying over Haiti broadcasting a recorded message, no doubt made at the urging of Washington officials, from Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador in Washington, stating: "Listen, don't rush on boats to leave the country. If you do this, we'll all have even worse problems. Because, I'll be honest with you: If you think you will reach the U.S. and all the doors will be wide open to you, that's not at all the case. And they will intercept you right on the water and send you back home where you came from."

Interesting also is this line from Cynthia McKinney:

Every plane of humanitarian assistance that is turned away by the U.S. military (so far from CARICOM, the Caribbean Community, Médecins Sans Frontieres, Brazil, France, Italy and even the U.S. Red Cross) - as was done in the wake of Hurricane Katrina - and the expected arrival on this very day of up to 10,000 U.S. troops, are lasting reminders of the existential threat that now looms over the valiant, proud people and the Republic of Haiti.

Here's more on the landings.

HT to Art Carden on FDR and Obama.

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COMMENTS (15 to date)
MikeDC writes:

Listen, I pretty much detest the current administration, but this is the sort of post that prompts even me to defend it.

Cynthia McKinney? Really? Seriously??

"no doubt made at the urging of Washington officials, from Raymond Joseph, Haiti's ambassador in Washington"? Perhaps, but they didn't put a gun to his head. And whether or not the problems are worse, it's undoubtedly true Americans won't welcome them with open arms.

That gets to what I really object to, which is the nonsense emanating from that post that us poor victimized Americans are passively sitting by as our government ruthlessly prevents Haitians from coming here.

If you really believe that, I've got some news for you. Pretty much every regular person I talk to, and I talk to a lot of them, doesn't want a mass influx of immigrants, no matter how tired, poor and huddled they are.

In this respect, I believe our government is generally following the popular will, whether you or I agree with it. As such, I find it somewhat difficult to heap blame on the government.

David R. Henderson writes:

I never claimed that most Americans don't want to let them in. I don't judge a government by whether it follows the popular will. Do you?

MikeDC writes:

Absolutely I do!

At least if you're going to reduce it to a binary choice. Like markets, popular government is pretty terrible until you compare it with the alternatives.

Obviously if we delve deeper into things, the important question is the level to which officials can and should lead popular opinion gets us into a lot grayer areas. I'd consider Hayek more right than wrong here (officials have a limited ability to go off the path set by society).

If I were to make a further supposition, I'd say the public will itself would be quite a bit more tolerant were it officials less prone to ignore it.

So yeah, the conspiratorial tone of the Hornberger's piece, which wholly omits this basic principle, really rubs me the wrong way.

David R. Henderson writes:

I don't think you raised the tough issue with your view. Here's the tough issue:
Let's say popular opinion says, "Let's keep slavery." Popular opinion did say that circa 1840. By your standard, the U.S. government and the South should have kept slavery. Is that what you would have advocated at the time? And if not, why not?

psychologist writes:

Instead of just letting Haitians come to the States, we should incorporate Haiti as a US colony. That way Haitian land and capital can be administrated more effectively, not just the people.

MikeDC writes:

I recognize myself to be a predominantly evolutionary, rather than revolutionary guy. I'd say yes, the US should have kept slavery circa 1840. I think I would have advocated against slavery, but not through government coercion.

The why not is because I think there are practical limits and obvious dangers to imposing an unpopular view on the existing conventions of society. Even the ones I find repugnant. Incidentally, circa 1840 was when John Calhoun made his famous speech arguing slavery should be seen as a "positive good" rather than the "necessary evil" it was predominantly (but by no means totally) seen as by the founding fathers and generations of Americans up to that point.

I'd hope, had I been able during that time, that I'd argue strongly against the "positive good" view.

That is, I'd argue for voluntary, peaceful, and non-coercive elimination of slavery. Abolition shouldn't be forced by the government, but neither should slavery be afforded the myriad of legal advantages it received.

I think as libertarians (and people in general), don't have a very good handle on what Hayek called Nomos vs. Thesis. I don't think Hayek did either, but his conceptualization of the existing, emergent set of standards/rules vs. the standards/rules we'd like to enforce (for whatever our reasons) is a very useful one.

In every context, I'd argue for knowing the limits of coercive power and understanding the dangers of pushing too hard against generally popular conceptions, even those we deem bad ones.

In the slavery example, the more strident "positive good" rhetoric (and actions) arose to combat the perception that the popular (amongst the polity), generally accepted social and legal conventions of the slave states were endangered by the strident abolitionism of folks like Garrison. Put bluntly, both sides became extremely polarized in their actions and rhetoric. In retrospect, the proper time to really consider is probably around 5-10 years earlier (circa 1830-5) when this path might have been easier to get off of. But of course, we don't get to choose what point in history we jump into.

Which is sort of the point. In neither case do I see the side of polarization and coercion leading to something worthwhile. A gradualist approach, sought across the board to make slavery less popular and less profitable, rather than less legal is an interesting thought experiment. Unfortunately, folks who tend to be good leaders rarely think in those terms? But would it be better to end slavery peacefully in 1890 or at the cost probably a million lives but ended slavery in 1865?

I tend to think, especially in light of the many negatives that came out of the war beyond just death, the gradualist view is the better one.

I recognize it's not morally satisfying. But at the end of the day, I reach a consistent conclusion. Attempts to impose unpopular views must be handled with the greatest care. They should be limited, gradual, and relatively non-coercive. Generally when they are not, they lead to backlash and confrontation.

That's true with Haiti as well. I'm in favor of taking moderate steps to make immigration to the US from Haiti easier. However, if we get carried away with it, there will be problems, and much of the unpopularity of immigration today is the result of past coercive government policy.

And yes, of course slavery is, itself, a coercive government policy, but enforced for long enough as a profitable and accepted convention by the body politic, I think it realistically has to be accepted into the nomos (though if I remember Hayek correctly, he evades on this point... probably because it's obviously a very untidy moral discussion).

botogol writes:

let's face it the US is the only country still in the invasion game....

MikeP writes:

Exactly what is coercive about free migration?

MikeDC writes:

In principle, especially libertarian principle, nothing is coercive about free migration.

In practice, however, has long as we're tied to monopolized governments and physical locations, it pretty obviously bumps into another cherished libertarian principle: freedom of association.

Existing populations aren't coerced by the fact of new immigrants, they're coerced by the fear and/or fact of being forced to associate (here, read "pay for") folks they'd choose not to.

MikeP writes:

So you advocate abrogating my cherished freedom to associate with someone who was born somewhere else because you can't control your government's welfare profligacy?

MikeDC writes:

"You" and "your"?

Not at all! Because we cannot control our government's welfare profligacy, our freedom of association is impinged.

In a welfare state, all members must associate with all. Assuming for the moment you're American, you and I are associates (if you're not, this is a moot point because I'm not abrogating your freedom in any way). If H moves here at your invitation and against my wish, he also becomes a member of the welfare state. He becomes my associate against my will.

Vastly reducing the welfare state would clearly reduce my obligations to H. Thus, you and I may still associate, and you may associate with H without requiring that I (and your other associates) do so.

Douglass Holmes writes:

Jacob Hornberger makes a few good points, but mostly he just rehashes an old anti-American rant that blames policies on racism. Any Cuban who makes it ashore gets to stay in the US. Not so with Haitians. It isn’t because of their race. It’s because the Cubans are politically connected. However, I agree with your position. Letting them in will save lives and we should let them in.

It is easy to dismiss the article in the Cynthia McKinney link as mindless anti-Americanism. Our military has very good logistics capabilities. They can move things in very quickly. Since the refueling capability at the airport was destroyed, our military had to set something up, so they have to control air traffic into and out of the airport.

However, if the article is correct, then we don’t need to turn refugees back to Haiti. We can ship them to Senegal.

One interesting point I will concede in that article: in the aftermath of Katrina, there were reports of unbelievable violence. It turns out that we shouldn't have believed those reports. The same may be happening in Haiti.

MikeP writes:

Because we cannot control our government's welfare profligacy, our freedom of association is impinged.

But it is the government that is violating your rights. It is not the immigrants. The immigrants should not be punished for it.

Your logic amounts to a bizarro "might makes wrong" reasoning. It holds people's inalienable individual rights hostage to the bad decisions of some other party they had absolutely nothing to do with.

Assuming for the moment you're American, you and I are associates (if you're not, this is a moot point because I'm not abrogating your freedom in any way).

If I am not American, you may not be abrogating my freedom, but your government is. It prohibits my traveling, residing, or working in the territory it claims dominion over.

MikeDC writes:

But it is the government that is violating your rights. It is not the immigrants. The immigrants should not be punished for it.

That's an odd sort of logic. A steals from B and gives to C. But C is not subject to punishment? At common law, C is liable for conversion.

I also think it's odd that we could discuss "inalienable rights" without conferring some legitimacy on a government as an association of individuals who agree those rights are inalienable in the first place. What if I want to alienate myself from some of my rights in exchange for something else?

MikeP writes:

At common law, C is liable for conversion.

Under common law, A would not be organizing theft and redistribution through legislation in the first place. Surely before one goes after C, one needs to have reined in A.

As for inalienable rights, those words weren't accidental...

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

Inalienable rights preexist government, and government is legitimate to the degree that it recognizes and secures those rights.

As for your inalienable right to alienate your own rights, I would hope there would be legal conventions that would prevent a truly bad deal being recognized, but fundamentally I believe that right exists.

For an example from the headlines, Conan O'Brien seems to have used his right of contract to sign away his right to disparage NBC. I have no problem with that.

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