Bryan Caplan  

A Question for Steve Sailer's B-School Professor

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An interesting vignette from Steve Sailer:

By "citizenism," I mean that I believe Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners.

Let me describe citizenism using a business analogy. When I was getting an MBA many years ago, I was the favorite of an acerbic old Corporate Finance professor because I could be counted on to blurt out in class all the stupid misconceptions to which students are prone.

One day he asked: "If you were running a publicly traded company, would it be acceptable for you to create new stock and sell it for less than it was worth?"

"Sure," I confidently announced. "Our duty is to maximize our stockholders' wealth, and while selling the stock for less than its worth would harm our current shareholders, it would benefit our new shareholders who buy the underpriced stock, so it all comes out in the wash. Right?"

"Wrong!" He thundered. "Your obligation is to your current stockholders, not to somebody who might buy the stock in the future."

Steve immediately adds:

That same logic applies to the valuable right of being an American citizen and living in America.

But I want to continue the conversation with Steve's professor.  If I'd been in the same class, I would have immediately raised my hand:

Me: Well, suppose I could help current stockholders by poisoning the products of our competitors, leading to the deaths of thousands of children.  Do I have an obligation to do that?

Prof: Are you out of your mind?  That's murder!

Me: Oh, right.  Well, suppose I could help current stockholders by kidnapping the CEOs of firms that try to hire away our workers?  Am I obliged to do so?

Prof: No!  You're obliged not to kidnap anyone.

Me: I'm confused.  You told me I have a fiduciary obligation to my shareholders, right?

Prof: You're taking me way too literally, kid.  Basic moral obligations come first.  If your fiduciary duty clashes with your basic moral obligations, you have to ignore your fiduciary obligations.  Everybody knows that.

Yet as far as I've seen, none of the defenses of "citizenism" address this concern.  If an avowed citizenist were to announce...

Of course I acknowledge fundamental moral obligations to all humans.  But we still have a little moral latitude to favor fellow citizens.

...the two of us could have a useful conversation.  I'd ask, "If allowing a peaceful worker to accept a job offer from a peaceful employer isn't a fundamental moral obligation, what is?"  And I'd listen carefully and respectfully to his reply.

However, if a citizenist recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens, I can only dismiss him as a monster.  The same goes if the citizenist says he recognizes some moral obligations to non-citizens, but then refuses to specify them or seriously consider whether the policies he advocates violate these obligations. 

As a parent, I identify with the citizenist's sense of obligation to his people.  I freely admit that I put my children's welfare far ahead of the welfare of strangers.  Nevertheless, if one of my children kicked an innocent person, cheated on a test, or slashed a rival's tires, I'd have a duty to set my feelings aside and make my child answer for his offense.  I certainly wouldn't help my child trample the rights of others. 

Does this make me special?  Hardly.  I'm only describing common decency.  I suspect that most citizenists would treat their wayward children the same way I would. 

My question for citizenists everywhere: If you think you're often morally obligated to suppress the favoritism you naturally feel for your children, why aren't you morally obligated to suppress the far milder favoritism you naturally feel for your fellow citizens?  Once you suppress this favoritism, can you really in good conscience take the side of a citizen who wants to deny foreigners permission to work so he can get a better job?

HT: Chris Hendrix



COMMENTS (201 to date)
BZ writes:

I was just re-listening to one of Russ Roberts podcasts on the "Theory of Moral Sentiments". After reading this, it got me thinking, if Smith is right about the cause of familiar sentiments, and if those are the same as "citizenism" (or a variant: Nationalism), then perhaps the tact one should take in combating "citizenism" is to teach people about variety in human tastes and values. By making them understand all the things they don't have in common with people who live on the same piece of delineated dirt as they do, and the things they do have in common with people around the world, then perhaps they begin to equate their feelings toward people on the other side of the world with people down the street, and may find peace with the justice in treating those people with equal respect.

Just a thought!

Steve Z writes:

It strikes me that if Professor Caplan were truly concerned about opening borders, he would spend less time tilting at "citizenists," of which there are vanishingly few, and more time educating ignorant but undecided people.

To respond to this post, though:

I freely admit that I put my children's welfare far ahead of the welfare of strangers.

Now we're getting somewhere.

Nevertheless, if one of my children kicked an innocent person, cheated on a test, or slashed a rival's tires, I have a duty to set my feelings aside and make my child answer for his offense.

These analogies are inapposite. The pertinent question is the extent to which you'd let your child suffer to gratuitously help a stranger, not whether you'd let your child's bad acts go unpunished. People discipline their children because fairness is important, &c, but the principle is not that they are "suppressing their favoritism," and it does not follow that there is an obligation to let your child suffer for the benefit of random strangers.

Personally, I'm inclined to let my child suffer for the benefit of random strangers very little. Your answer might differ in degree, but you've already conceded the central point, which is that you put your child's welfare "far ahead" of that of strangers.

Vipul Naik writes:

Steve Z makes the killing versus letting die distinction.

8 writes:

I know religious people who give all their money and time to religious charities, ignoring their own families and their own children (one in my own family). Most people politely acknowledge them in public, but think they are crazy behind closed doors. It creates strains within the family.

Now, this is a devout Christian. I don't see how open borders is going to be popular with the general public.

C writes:

Apparently, Caplan has not taken Vipul Naik's advice from earlier this year to couch his arguments in less sanctimonius, non-moral posturing terms.

Bryan, by conceding that he values his children's welfare above others who are unrelated essentially concedes the citizenist's views' validity (most citizenists, as do most humans, view relationships as a hierarchy). What Bryan is essentially arguing after that point is not the principle but only the degree of inequality (ie how much should he favor his children over strangers and at what point does he stop doing so in the interests of morality).

To a citizenist, his fellow citizens' right to benefit (in most countries, though not as closely so in America, typically related to him by some degree of genetics) from fewer negative externalities (less crime, less demand for social welfare in absolute terms) and less competition for the right to make a living is compelling and part of the social compact. If you don't believe in helping your fellow citizens in that way, then you deserve to be expelled from the polis in other words.

The arguments I have outlined above are not complex and almost everyone seems to grasp them so I am puzzled why Bryan pretends they are inexplicable or morally wrong. Why can't Caplan just be a rationalist and make his argument in terms of economic efficiency (his strongest argument anyway)? Why the need to ignore primal human bonds (and ones that helped build all functional societies) and pretend that this is an enlightened state?

John Thacker writes:
The pertinent question is the extent to which you'd let your child suffer to gratuitously help a stranger, not whether you'd let your child's bad acts go unpunished.

I see your argument, but the problem is that I interpret not stationing armed guards at the border to block people from coming in as quite different from "gratuitously helping people." Bryan's not talking about offering "forty acres and a mule" or land via the Homestead Act to any immigrant, or buying them a plane ticket. He's talking about not preventing them from coming in.

If people reverse what they think of as acts of commission versus omission, you get led to different conclusions.

I don't view letting someone into the country as "giving them something," I view it as not treating them unfairly and not cheating in the job market.

The same with C's argument. "Less crime" and "Less competition for the right to make a living," when enforced by restrictive laws, just sound the same sort of thing as Jim Crow. I honestly have a hard time seeing the difference between not wanting blacks in this country to compete with you and your children for "the right to make a living" and having the same opinions about foreigners competing with the right to make a living. Not letting them move here (if they can make it) sounds like restrictive covenants preventing blacks from moving into your neighborhood because of fears of the same crime.

I apologize if these analogies seem over the top to you, but they were accepted policies not all that long ago.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan,

Thanks for publicizing my analogy.

Steve

Futility Monster writes:


Perhaps we could make the children/citizen analogy more direct.

Suppose your son Bob break his bike. The bike shop will fix it for $100. Your daughter Claire can fix the bike just as well, but she wants $120. Would you forbid your son from getting the bike fixed at the shop?

Hugh writes:

Let me try to work with your example.

Right now I am sure that you offer your children at a very minimum: rent-free shelter; regular (free) meals; free transport to and from school; an allowance (if they are old enough).

In the past you bought a house that was too big for you and your wife so that you could offer shelter to your children. In the future you will help your children with their education (be it mere signaling or something more) although that too will be very costly.

If I now require you to open your house to another 100 children you have a practical problem that you simply cannot solve. I will berate you about your poor morals, but that won't change a thing.

At that point you will have become, in practice, a citizenist. Welcome to the club!

ajb writes:

We already have mild evidence that allowing in millions of Hispanics is helping to change the institutions of the USA that make prosperity possible. Affirmative action, welfare, and left wing Democrats are all strong supported because of current Hispanics in the US. Latino tribalism which Caplan normally deplores has risen and been promoted by the Left. Why should the burden of proof be on the citizen to assume that increased Latino immigration will NOT change institutions in an even more detrimental way, thus harming BOTH citizens and the world in the long run?

Jason Malloy writes:

Nevertheless, if one of my children kicked an innocent person, cheated on a test, or slashed a rival's tires, I have a duty to set my feelings aside and make my child answer for his offense.

Right, kicking other children is bad. So is committing violence against foreigners. And that's the appropriate analogy.

The more appropriate analogy for immigration would be your son inviting his best friend to live with you in your house. This arrangement might be peachy for your son and his friend, but a burden on the other members of the household, who all have a morally defensible stake in their own intimate living conditions.

It's not malicious to turn people away at the border, just as it's not malicious to turn people away at your doorstep.

Steve Sailer writes:

"The more appropriate analogy for immigration would be your son inviting his best friend to live with you in your house."

Right.

Or, your son invites his best friend, who in turn invites his dad, who invites his brother, who invites their mother and her new husband, who invites his sister and her kids, who invite ...

Peter St. Onge writes:

This might be a silly question but why is Sailer using "citizenism" when "nationalism" is the preferred term? Is there some baggage he's trying to unload? Or am I missing an important distinction?

Steve Sailer writes:

So, yes, Bryan I'm against boosting shareholder wealth by cannibalizing infants or boosting American citizens' wealth by invading Canada and enslaving Canadians or whatever other 3 AM in the dorm room examples you want to come up with.

In turn, let me ask you, do you grasp the moral distinction between current and future stockholders? It's a subtle one, and of course the point of my story was that 22-year-old me utterly failed to perceive it. Yet, this distinction is at the absolute heart of corporate governance. And can you explain back -- in the mode of your ideological Turing Test -- why it's a relevant analogy for thinking about immigration?

Steve Sailer writes:

Vipul Naik writes:

"Steve Z makes the killing versus letting die distinction."

Mexico is, after America, the second most obese country on earth, according to a recent OECD study. Nobody is being "let die" of starvation by keeping the next 10 million Mexicans out.

Sonic Charmer writes:

Bryan your examples all involve the CEO doing immoral things that violate others' rights. But there is nothing immoral about a government controlling its national borders. I believe you have tried to make arguments that there is, but they are not compelling. Or if you like, a 'citizenist' is among other things someone who doesn't buy your argument that Permanently Relocating To The U.S. is a fundamental inalienable universal right.

There you go again, describing immigration solely in terms of some (domestic) employer spontaneously giving some distant foreigner a "job offer". Is that really an accurate description of the immigration dynamic? Who are all these employers you imagine are sending certified letters to random Mexicans deep into the heart of Mexico containing "job offers"? How does that work exactly: "Dear sir, We are pleased to offer you a position as..." And THAT'S why the Mexican moves here. "I got a job offer, honey! Pack your things!" Sorry, not picturing it.

Finally it appears that (oddly, for a libertarian!) you are confusing positive rights with negative rights. Nobody's rights are being violated by a faraway country saying they can't relocate to there. But your criticism elides that and instead speaks of some 'moral obligation' that the U.S. government allegedly has to foreigners, blurring the difference between (a) not violating their rights and (b) doing nice things for them. Again, nobody would doubt that the U.S. government (or any government) has a moral obligation not to violate their rights, but this doesn't mean it has a moral obligation to take *positive actions* thought/said/alleged to increase their welfare. Again, people aware of the positive/negative rights distinction should have no trouble understanding this, which is why your position is so puzzling.

Tom West writes:

Doesn't this entire debate simply hinge on the view of "ownership" of one's country?

If you are part owner of a house, then I think few dispute the right of a majority of owners of the house to establish rules for all owners as to who may be invited into the house.

However, if one doesn't view the citizens of a country as having ownership rights over the country as a whole, then no, nobody should have the right to block you from hiring foreigners and doing so is immoral.

As I understand it, all of Bryan's arguments hinge on the idea that the citizens of a country do *not* have shared ownership rights over their country, as the chauvinism that he abhors and considers immoral would be perfectly acceptable from a private owner on private land.

JJW14 writes:

Tom West is correct. All of Bryan's arguments for open borders come down to a denial of the right of the American people to make a collective judgment about who should be admitted. Any considerations of their safety, self-interest, or even survival appear to be irrelevant to him. It is simplistic at best, pure nonsense at worst.

Sonic Charmer writes:

Tom West,

Without (at least *some* concept of) shared ownership it is hard to see by what right people of a nation-state may jointly form militaries to prevent (so-called, I guess?) invasion. So, while it's true that shared ownership can be logically denied, to do so is really to deny the nation-state altogether.

JJW14 writes:

Tom West is correct. All of Bryan's arguments for open borders come down to a denial of the right of the American people to make a collective judgment about who should be admitted. Any considerations of their safety, self-interest, or even survival appear to be irrelevant to him. It is simplistic at best, pure nonsense at worst.

MikeP writes:

It's only the founding concept of the United States:

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...

The right to walk from point A to point B. The right to take a job offered by a willing employer at point B. The right to purchase or rent property from a willing owner at point B. These are all unalienable rights.

Prohibiting that travel, that labor, that residence, solely because A is outside of the US and B is inside the US is abrogating those unalienable rights.

But, indeed, like the shareholders in the parable, the government and the citizenry of the US can continue itself in such form as to best secure the unalienable rights of those governed by, for example, presenting armies against invasion and providing rules of naturalization.

MikeP writes:

So, while it's true that shared ownership can be logically denied, to do so is really to deny the nation-state altogether.

No, it isn't. The government governs a territory. It does not own it. And there is nothing in any theory whatsoever that requires that a government own a territory to govern it. Indeed, the very thought is a quite unAmerican notion.

Sonic Charmer writes:

MikeP, please note I said 'some concept of' ownership. Again, without at least *some* concept of ownership, I don't see how you can justify a government having a military that tries to prevent invasions. So what if some (so-called) 'invasion' force is coming across the border? They are just a large group of 20-50 year old men exercising their 'right' to walk from point A to point B, while bearing arms. Big deal.

John Thacker writes:
The more appropriate analogy for immigration would be your son inviting his best friend to live with you in your house.

Only if you think that citizens all collectively own a country in the same way that you own your house. I view it in this case as my neighbors preventing me from doing something.

I think a more appropriate analogy is your neighbors preventing you from inviting your best friend to live with you in your house, because they don't think it's good for them. A better analogy is to things like your neighbors controlling what color you can paint your house, or whether you can have a basketball goal, or zoning. Those at least are cases where government is involved-- and I agree that some people think that those sorts of laws are well-justified. I just don't.

It still seems that by y'all's arguments, Jim Crow and racial covenants were perfectly acceptable as well. That it's reasonable for you to collectively decide that I can't sell my house to someone or employ someone because of where they lived.

The government is not some big family to me. There are limitations on it; I have a private sphere. Immigration restrictions are collectivism and anti-American in the same sense as telling me what I can do with my house is.

MikeP writes:

So what if some (so-called) 'invasion' force is coming across the border? They are just a large group of 20-50 year old men exercising their 'right' to walk from point A to point B, while bearing arms. Big deal.

Yes, it is a big deal. They are threatening or conspiring to threaten the government and governance of the US, and, as such, can legitimately be repelled by the government and people of the US.

Sean writes:

The real problem is justifying these particularized obligations in the first place. It seems to me that what we owe our fellow citizens we owe them qua persons and not qua citizens.

Jeff writes:
They are threatening or conspiring to threaten the government and governance of the US, and, as such, can legitimately be repelled by the government and people of the US.

What if, instead of the use of force, they just move here peacefully, but organize politically for the purpose of imposing redistributive economic policies?

Sonic Charmer writes:

They are threatening or conspiring to threaten the government and governance of the US

Says who? Prove it. Don't you need a trial? All I've described is a bunch of guys walking from Point A to Point B.

Andrew writes:

Wow -- with the new found fear of "new people" invading "our" land, I wonder how much longer until some of you wish to decide just which of your neighbors shouldn't be breeding.

Tracy W writes:

The more appropriate analogy for immigration would be your son inviting his best friend to live with you in your house.

This analogy implies that citizens have a right to stop their fellow citizens from having babies, which after all is adding people. And pretty selfish, greedy, antisocial people too at least at first. With no idea of table manners, or even basic hygiene.

MikeP writes:

Don't you need a trial? All I've described is a bunch of guys walking from Point A to Point B.

The need for a trial or not would be dictated by the immediacy of the treat.

Note that the government needn't summarily execute them as potential invaders. It simply should, prudently and in service of the compelling public interest, hold up their visa approval and entry pending inquiry into the apparent threat of conspiracy.

Vladimir writes:

You can use the same pattern to establish an argument for the welfare state, or even downright communism:

1. Point out a situation where you'd come off as a monster if you insisted on holding on to your property rights. (E.g. some immediate emergency.)

2. Make an analogy with more remote people in need who can be greatly helped if you and similar people just give up on some small fraction of your wealth. So what makes you a lesser monster in this situation? And then why stop there?

Unless you insist on an extremely unusual and idiosyncratic ultra-libertarian moral system -- which you apparently do -- there's no way you can make such arguments apply only to some exclusionary institutions (nation-states) without making them apply to others as well (including private business, families, and individual property owners).


Tony N writes:
Wow -- with the new found fear of "new people" invading "our" land, I wonder how much longer until some of you wish to decide just which of your neighbors shouldn't be breeding.

Said the Indian to the Chief.

Anthony writes:

@Andrew:
Actually, if I thought it was morally acceptable and feasible to decide which of my neighbors should breed, I wouldn't care nearly as much about immigration policy. It's precisely because people have the right to make their own reproductive decisions that immigration policy matters so much in terms of determining the future composition of this country.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

"It's like..." is a great way to present and argument. Really. Many can see the strengths and weaknesses of the assertion.

johnleemk writes:

Andrew,

Indeed. The equivalence between peaceful immigrants and invading armies ought to be justified.

The family analogies don't work because families allocate scarce private goods internally by fiat of the head(s) of the household. That's not what non-communist countries do. Immigrants may impose social costs, but they do not do this in the same way that my son inviting his best friend to live with him would impose costs on my family. Immigrants (or the descendants of citizens, for that matter) may overwhelm the existing common resources governed by the state, which is one problem. But that problem has nothing to do with running out of food, water, or room in a household where all these things are allocated entirely by a central planner.

Most analogies treating the country like a firm or family are just excuses for thinking about the public goods governed and provided by the state (law and order, legal rights, etc.) as if they are private goods (dinner on the table, utility bills, company-held assets). One is collectively consumed, and one is not. One is non-rival in consumption, and the other is rival. One is non-excludable, but the other isn't. This sloppy economic thinking shouldn't be persuasive on a blog like this.

johnleemk writes:

Vladimir's analogising looser immigration laws to redistribution of private property is another fantastic example of thinking about public goods as if they are private goods.

blighter writes:

Prof. Caplan,

What if one of your children wanted to invite a homeless drug addict with a lengthy history of violence to sleep in his bedroom in return for doing his chores. As this is a peaceful transaction freely entered into by two people, are you morally obligated to allow your child to share his room & your home with whomever they want?

Or are you allowed to say no because it's your home? But isn't it also your child's home? How can you interfere with his & the thug's free rights to enter into mutually beneficial transactions?

So which is it, are you a moral monster or would you let your kids rent out their space in your home to whomever they want?

Finch writes:

The whole idea of citizenship is just a convention. As it works now, citizens get to make decisions about how new citizens get made, and for obvious reasons they make those decisions in their own self-interest (immigration is modestly challenging, having kids is okay). Since there's no compelling moral reason to bring most immigrants in, it comes down to arguments about gains to trade versus externalities and political drift.

This post and the subsequent comment thread is one big concession that the citizenism argument is basically correct, but that there's some question of where it stops, and about when you are compelled to help. If you want to convince people open borders are a good idea, this is not the way, since this is really just a matter of taste. If you want a strong argument that will convince doubters, you need to show that open borders are better for current citizens.

blighter writes:

To those who reject the family analogy b/c in the country case it is your neighbors who are infringing on your rights to invite in whomever you want, what if Bryan & family moved into a gated community and then decided that they'd enjoy gaining the extra income of renting out the extra space in their house to large numbers of transients, would his neighbors have any right to object and/or try to force him not to?

I live in an apartment building, if my next door neighbor starts hosting dozens & dozens of people in his studio apartment such that the elevator is always busy, the trash room is always busy, the plumbing starts to break down under the extra strain etc., do I have any right to protest? Or is everything hunky-dory b/c he's just making mutually beneficial agreements with other free folk?

Am I moral monster if I want to live in a building that doesn't allow people to invite in an arbitrary amount of people if they see fit, regardless of the effects on their neighbors?

johnleemk writes:

blighter,

The argument from overcrowding assumes away reality. It's a 3AM dorm room conjecture, as Steve Sailer would put it. Of course the infrastructure of any apartment building would be overloaded if the tenant/owner of every studio apartment sublet each of their units to a dozen people. The question is, who would ever do that, why would they ever do that, and could they even do that? Wondering what will happen to an apartment complex if every studio hosts twelve residents is like wondering how many angels can dance on a pinhead.

People see the phrase "open borders" and imagine 8 million people popping up in Central Park tomorrow morning, or 30 million people in California next week. These are all 3AM dorm room examples, because nobody can provide a plausible scenario in which they would happen without either violation of the laws of physics or massive government subsidies which nobody is proposing.

blighter writes:

johnleemk,

I'll try to revise the apartment analogy to meet your objections in a bit but first a general question:

Why are Open Borders people not advocating for governmental or other assistance to get some of the billion-plus desperately poor in the world who would love to come to the U.S./anywhere in the first to come here/there?

If you believe it's morally wrong to deny anyone the right to come here b/c it could benefit them regardless of whatever effects it might have on someone else already here, why are you not morally obligated to help people who would benefit from coming here come here? Isn't that just the same "Killing versus letting die" distinction that Open Borders folk claim is morally obtuse?

Finch writes:

johnleemk,

Obviously you've never lived in an apartment block that had some units reserved for low-income housing. What blighter described is _exactly_ what occurs.

I've moved in part for that reason. Lousy neighbors are an awful problem. You don't think about your neighbors when they're good.

Andrew writes:

It's getting worse. I'm tempted to not travel to Wisconsin to visit my family for Thankgiving on the off chance I will oppress their neighbors and they attempt to have me deported. I didn't get permission from the thousands of people I might encounter on the way there.

After all, in order to travel from MN to WI I have to cross lots of invisible lines and place an undue burdon on those that crossed that line before me.

Just what do you do to people that happen to be in front of you in the grocery store? Knee cap them?

blighter writes:

johnleemk,

How about this apartment analogy:

Let's say I live in a big, luxury building in an urban area. The building has significantly lower population density than the surrounding city -- and not all of that lower density is just large apartments, it has sizable common areas: a huge lobby, a huge workout room, a huge pool area with attached spa, most of which is used only a couple hours a day at most, on average.

Now let's say that I want to make a mutually beneficial exchange with a nearby homeless family, allowing them to camp out in one corner of the pool area in exchange for doing some light housekeeping for me in my apartment. Not enough people to strain the building in any way, just one small family living in a tent by the pool.

Everyone in the building still has access to the pool & all other amenities. They def. have the capacity to use them as much as they ever did before, which was never much (only a couple hours a day on average).

If my neighbors try to evict that family &/or prevent me from letting any others in to benefit from the other still-unused resources in our building, are they justified in doing so? Or are they moral monsters for not wanting me to change the composition of our building in ways that tremendously benefit a needy family while being ultimately insignificant to existing tenants in everything except arguably aesthetic ways?

johnleemk writes:

blighter,

"If you believe it's morally wrong to deny anyone the right to come here b/c it could benefit them regardless of whatever effects it might have on someone else already here, why are you not morally obligated to help people who would benefit from coming here come here?"

Is there a positive externality addressed by an immigration subsidy? Is there a public good from immigration that private actors don't account for when they consider immigrating? These are the classic arguments for subsidies, and I haven't seen anyone make them with respect to immigration. I think one *could* make the case for immigration subsidies, but I haven't seen anyone make the case. I am very open to the idea of privately donating my money to help poor people migrate to richer countries, but I would have to be persuaded that there are strong reasons why these poor people need my help to migrate, why they can't scrape together their own savings to move somewhere else. (Note that one can make the identical argument for domestic immigration as well -- you obviously believe an American in Alaska benefits from being able to move to Texas, so why don't you support subsidies for this mobility?)

Right now, the main obstacle to migration is government barriers. Bring those down, and we can talk about whether anything else needs to be down about migration. Until then, there is no reason to be advocating subsidies for immigration, especially when there's ample evidence that poor people interested in migrating are already economically capable of doing so, even in the face of huge government interventions against them that artificially raise the price of migration.

Anthony writes:

@johnleemk: Significant housing overcrowding is not some implausible hypothetical, it's a well-known reality of low-skill immigration. Here is a study by the Latino Policy Forum that found that "in nine of Chicago’s suburban communities with large Latino populations, the number of overcrowded housing units leapt by an average of 133 percent between 1990 and 2000." They concluded that a) the answer to this is absolutely not to enforce existing housing regulations, but does include increasing funding for affordable
housin, and anyway, "The intergenerational composition of Latino families is a strength of the community and should be supported." http://www.latinopolicyforum.org/news-and-media/latino-policy-forum-in-the-new/housing-overcrowding-study-released.aspx

There's an anecdote on page 11 of the report (http://www.latinopolicyforum.org/assets/LU_Crowding_Report2.pdf) from an adult wishing to move into a 2-bedroom apartment with four adults and two children and alleging that it is fraud that the landlord wants to charge her extra for, among other things, a second parking space. And that's just the example that is reasonable enough that it's being used in a publication to elicit sympathy.

daubery writes:

How about this:

1. Government does things that are viewed as aggressive or immoral if anyone else does them.

2. The ability to vote make you responsible (at least to an extent) for the actions of the government.

3. There is no obligation to submit yourself to the immoral and aggressive acts of others, even if doing so would make them a lot better off.

Imagine for instance that half a billion Nazis wanted to immigrate to the US from a poor country. I think everyone would agree it would be legitimate to deny them citizenship because they would quickly cause a great deal of harm to innocent bystanders already living in the country. And it wouldn't just be a matter of cost vs benefit: it would be wrong even if the Nazis gained more monetarily than the natives lost. Allowing unlimited immigration of people who would vote for bad (but not Nazi) policies seems to be a difference only of degree.

This reasoning would permit an extreme libertarian to deny any extension of the franchise, entitlements, etc. to new entrants. Of course it would not permit him to deny unlimited permanent guest worker status for any foreigner who wanted it.

Koz writes:

Interesting thread, here's a few comments:

Steve Z is definitely not right to downplay citizenism, especially as it pertains to his opinions about immigration. But C is right to emphasize that Bryan should dial down the sanctimoniousness and engage them directly.

Whenever I read Bryan's comments on immigration, there seems to be a persistent refusal to acknowledge that there are intermediate groups of people between the family and the whole world and sometimes, often even, the group is required to act in its best interest.

At least he does this some of the time. He doesn't seem to have any problems with the ability of the George Mason economics department to make its own tenure decisions, or Microsoft to have the exclusive ability to market Windows. But he does deny strongly the justice of the United States being able to make decisions of who can live or work here, or participate in its polity.

As a practical matter at least, that puts him in a small intellectual minority. And if he wants to pretend that the majority are moral monsters he should argue the case with some clarity instead of just glibly asserting it.

Let's also note that Charmer is right in that illegal immigrants, for the most part at least, don't have job offers from employers when they come in. That may or may not change things, but if nothing else it's useful as an illustration that Bryan typically takes useful abstractions far more literally than they can be realistically justified.

The most topical example of this are the arguments regarding the economic and social benefits to immigrants of immigration. Eg, that Mexican (or Indian) immigrants are likely to earn more live a higher standard of living in the US relative to their native nations. As a practical matter I don't think many people would dispute this but it doesn't follow as a fact of nature.

At this point, we could make an argument for culture as the source of economic prosperity and immigration as a threat to culture but we don't need to go that far yet. What would be more interesting is if Bryan and the like made a legitimate effort to reconcile the supposed benefits to immigration and what they would look like based on the premises that he insists on. If in fact the prosperity of the US in particular is somehow tied up with its immigration policy then it's not forensically valid for Bryan to claim the supposed humanitarian benefits for immigration because there wouldn't be such benefits if the US implemented the policy regime that Bryan prefers. And unless we hear something reasonable to the contrary, that should be our default assumption because without it there is no a priori reason to suppose that the US is inherently more prosperous than Mexico or India in the first place.

Btw, I think MikeP and John Thacker are confusing a couple of important concepts about the proprietary nature of government. The government governs the territory in controls. The citizens own, or exist in a proprietary relationship with, the government. But the government's control over territory is certainly sufficient to make intelligent decisions about who gets to live and work in the nation's territory.


johnleemk writes:

"Obviously you've never lived in an apartment block that had some units reserved for low-income housing. What blighter described is _exactly_ what occurs.

"I've moved in part for that reason. Lousy neighbors are an awful problem. You don't think about your neighbors when they're good."

The issue you have is with government regulation of apartment complexes that artificially subsidise housing for poor people. Doesn't sound like you have an issue with letting poor people move where they can afford to move. Nobody's asking for government regulation requiring a particular proportion of immigrants in each community or locality. Open borders advocates only ask that immigrants who can afford the cost of immigration be allowed to actually immigrate.

blighter,

"Now let's say that I want to make a mutually beneficial exchange with a nearby homeless family, allowing them to camp out in one corner of the pool area in exchange for doing some light housekeeping for me in my apartment. Not enough people to strain the building in any way, just one small family living in a tent by the pool."

This is another 3AM in the dorm room example. The pool area is a common area enjoyed by the entire community. Nobody, except maybe Occupy, is asking for government to allow immigrants or poor people in general to live on public parks. Open borders advocates ask that people who can afford to rent an apartment be allowed to do so. If they can't, it's not government's job to make it easier for them to do so. What we oppose is government going out of its way to make things harder for people.

Finch writes:

How is open immigration not a subsidy to immigrants? It's not like we're dissolving the welfare state anytime soon. You need to tackle the question head on if you want to win the argument. Are the gains from trade worth the various costs?

I don't think you can look at the recent election results and continue to imagine the political effects of immigration are small, either.

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324439804578105072331776096.html?mod=hp_opinion

I note that the first point, about direct costs and benefits, is much less convincing an objection to skilled immigration. The second point applies pretty well to both skilled and unskilled immigration.

johnleemk writes:

Anthony,

I'm well aware that poor people (immigrants or not) tend to live in living conditions that rich people find unacceptable. The question is, does their doing this drag down the living conditions of rich people?

Rich people live in communities that poor people cannot afford to live in without government intervention. A construction worker from Nicaragua is not going to move into Beverly Hills without government housing subsidies. The objections being raised to immigration assume that immigrants lower the living conditions of citizens. This assumption is based entirely on a faulty analogy which assumes poor people are capable of affording to move into a community where rich people live.

In my county, I live within walking distance of overcrowded apartment communities. They tend to be populated by students and immigrants who can't afford better housing. I haven't noticed any deterioration in my quality of life since moving here. The arguments from overcrowding are bunk because they assume the impact of overcrowding in an apartment complex are exactly equivalent to "overcrowding" in a larger community.

Ken B writes:

Sailer's in-class argument would imply that as long as the total assets were not diminshed anything you did with them would be OK. Give them away, tax them away, steal them away: the new holder benefits, so it's a wash.

The professor is making a point about *property rights.* I fail to see how any of Bryan's follow up questions are on point.

Adam writes:

Ok, so doesn't the potential immigrant have an obligation to the citizen of his home country? I'd say yes. The potential immigrant probability has skills that are highly valued in the home country and his exit damages the prospects of the home citizens. If the potential immigrant is also more freedom oriented, the home country loses that influence as well.

Indeed, why not ally ourselves with cross-border alliances to promote political, economic and personal liberty within countries. This may have much greater consequences for the expansion of liberty--much more so than simply allowing a few to escape into a freer situation. Seems like the idea of "open borders" is just an excuse to be indifferent to the self-imposed poverty of tribalism and statism that's so common in today's world.

guthrie writes:

@Andrew,

As a resident of Milwaukee, I want to vigorously object to your immigration to my state. It matters not if your final destination is Madison, Wausau, Eau Claire, or Racine... the result is the same. You will directly burden me as if you had waltzed into my home without permission. Should you stay until next November, you could affect my local elections. There will be that much less food, shelter, and jobs for me to choose from. It matters not that you are a complete stranger bearing no ill-will toward me... I will assume your presence in my state is a direct threat to me, and I will be demanding the State's Reserve protect me from that threat (there really ought to be a wall along the Mississippi). Stay away, thou evil 'other'!

MikeP writes:

Adam,

Ok, so doesn't the potential immigrant have an obligation to the citizen of his home country? I'd say yes...

...Seems like the idea of "open borders" is just an excuse to be indifferent to the self-imposed poverty of tribalism and statism that's so common in today's world.

I'm having trouble typing a response with all that irony dripping onto the keyboard.

Anthony writes:

@johnleemk: If your argument is that low-skill immigration doesn't affect current citizens because poor people move into communities with other poor people, and therefore do not increase average overcrowding, the document I posted dispels that. Overcrowding in existing communities increased. If your argument is that this doesn't affect rich people, I agree. But if you object to the idea of citizenism, I'm not sure on what grounds the narrower variant of "rich-citizenism" would win out.

sourcreamus writes:

About one hundred and seventy years ago someone drew an artificial line on a map and seperated what would become New Mexico and Mexico. Now the people on what side of the line are much richer than the other. This is not because the New Mexico land is any better than Mexican land but because of the government, institutions and norms on the New Mexican side are better. When people come across the border they bring more than their wonderful cuisine and horrible music, they also bring their institutions. If enough people come the previous institutions and norms are crowded out by the new norms and institutions and what caused Mexico to be a relatively poor country would be recreated in the new land.
This is a collective action problem because by doing what is optimal for the individual almost everyone ends up worse off. Thus is you only focus on each individual transaction you enable a tragedy of the commons situation.

Finch writes:

A comment seems hung up in moderation. This may be repetitive:

> The issue you have is with government
> regulation of apartment complexes that
> artificially subsidise housing for poor people.

How is open immigration not a subsidy to immigrants? It's not like we're dissolving the welfare state anytime soon. You need to tackle the question head on if you want to win the argument. Are the gains from trade worth the various costs?

I don't think you can look at the recent election results and continue to imagine the political effects of immigration are small, either. Juan Williams comments on the impact of demographics in the WSJ:

http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887324439804578105072331776096.html?mod=hp_opinion

I note that the first point, about direct costs and benefits, is much less convincing an objection to skilled immigration. The second point applies pretty well to both skilled and unskilled immigration.

Mr. Econotarian writes:

I think the big logical fallacy is claiming that the country is "owned" by citizens. Citizens do largely influence the government through voting (although non-citizens have occasionally been allowed to vote in US history), however private property is owned by individuals and corporations, not by "the citizens" (many non-citizens own substantial property in the US), and not the government.

This is similar to the "should people be able to come into your house uninvited?" argument. I own my house, and if I want to invite someone into my house, you should not be able to stop me, regardless of the visitor's place of birth.

From a business school perspective, the real question is "should I be allowed to hire who I want to enhance shareholder value, regardless of their accidental place of birth?" and the answer today is "sorry, government regulations prohibit this."

Tony N writes:

It's not a question of ownership but of sovereignty.

Matt Strictland writes:

Morals aren't universal . The entire idea is in my opinion hooey. They don't even exist
really.

The closest thing to a moral basis for humanity is "my tribe first", this is pretty much hardwired and while many tribes have elaborate codes on how strangers are to be created, not all of them do and its best to plan accordingly.

And yes moral people are tribal as well, those "morals" are integrated tribal customs. Such customs however are brittle under stress as in such times, we revert to our instincts as a banding primate.

Sonic Charmer writes:

It's odd how many people are unable to conceive of and get hung up on different levels or layers of (something like) 'ownership' than simply the individual I-own-my-house variety. People are willing to concede that a government 'governs' but resist recognizing the simple and obvious reality that doing so inherently entails exerting a certain amount of, one might call informally, something like 'ownership' of that territory so 'governed'. And so the conversation is hung there, needlessly.

guthrie writes:

If Andrew successfully immigrates from MN to WI, he could bring his institutions with him... dear lord, that means he could replace my beloved Green Bay Packers with his loathsome Vikings! This shall not stand. Andrew, your threats of travel across my border have not fallen on deaf ears, sir. No less than my state's 'sovereignty' is at stake. 'We' shall thwart you yet!

A.W. Carus writes:

Amazing how much latent nativism wells up here!

Let's look at it from the other side (you guys are obviously all academics, not business people): I need to hire someone to expand my growing business, and all the applicants I deem acceptable are non-citizens. I find this repeatedly. Should I (a) not hire, and not grow (and perhaps not survive); (b) hire non-citizens; (c) move my company abroad?

Sounds to me like the nativists here answer (a) or (c), though the welfare consequences to citizens are obviously maximized, in most cases, by (b).

Or they might say that my standards of deeming acceptable are irrelevant and I should be made to hire the least bad of the citizen applicants. (This is now happening in the City of London, with disastrous consequences. . .)

Ken B writes:

@Sonic Charmer: Good point. Part of the issue is that many here see 'property rights' as a special, higher form of rights, clear to all and inarguable, from which all other rights can be deduced.

Sailer's prof made a pretty simple point about property and responsibility. It traduces my responsibilities to the owners' property rights if I do X or Y. That's a reason why, as a trustee, I cannot do X or Y. None of Bryan's hypotheticals fit that.

Auntie Analogue writes:

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DoJ writes:

@Mr. Econotarian:

You're often allowed to hire the foreigner in their home country. Countries tend to be generous in permitting foreign investment these days.

@A.W. Carus:

Uh, if ALL the applicants you deem acceptable are non-citizens, how is expanding abroad not the obvious thing to do?

James writes:

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MikeP writes:

It's not a question of ownership but of sovereignty.

Sovereignty is the positive fact that a state can do what it wants in the territory it controls and other states won't do anything to stop it. It has no place in a normative argument.

One would hope -- indeed the founders of the United States declared -- that this sovereignty would be used to secure unalienable rights rather than to abrogate them.

Claiming that the US is in the right simply because it is sovereign places your argument on the side of many very unpleasant sovereign states of the past and present.

Sonic Charmer writes:

A.W. Carus,

If the non-citizens are already living here and have the right to work, I don't see the problem. If they applied to you from afar and would be moving here to take your job, there probably is some government-visa/'sponsorship' program, whose cost you presumably factored in when weighing who the best applicants are, so go for it (not wanting open borders is not the same thing as wanting no immigrants; H-1B or whatever work visa programs are *examples of* a government controlling its borders, not exceptions to).

Correct me if I'm wrong but any other case you might be talking about seems to involve illegal immigration or otherwise under-the-table work, thus self-refuting, no?


Ken B,

To be clear, I'm pretty fanatical about private property and consider it one of the primary human rights myself, but that doesn't prevent me from recognizing that the essence of 'government' entails wielding some amount of primacy over a territory, or - as one might term it - a certain amount of 'ownership', for certain purposes. Controlling the national borders is one such purpose. The only self-consistent way I can see to deny this is to just be an anarchist.

Dr. Stephen J.Krune III writes:

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DK writes:

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MikeP writes:

Controlling the national borders is one such purpose. The only self-consistent way I can see to deny this is to just be an anarchist.

Certainly the borders should be controlled to prevent the entry of armies, terrorists, antisocial felons, or carriers of contagion.

Proponents of open borders simply believe that the entry of peaceful people should not be prohibited. One doesn't need to be an anarchist to believe that. The US wasn't an anarchy prior to World War I.

Diana writes:

"However, if a citizenist recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens, I can only dismiss him as a monster. The same goes if the citizenist says he recognizes some moral obligations to non-citizens, but then refuses to specify them or seriously consider whether the policies he advocates violate these obligations."

The only thing citizens of one country owe citizens of other countries is to refrain from unprovoked aggression, from meddling in their internal affairs, to trade with them responsibly and according to the rule of law and treaties (if grounds for mutual trading relationships exist) and to help them in times of dire emergency (if they are the sort who know how to use the aid, such as Japan).

Other than that, citizens of one country don't owe citizens of another country a thing.

Does that make me a monster, Bryan?

You can call me Diana

Tony N writes:

@MikeP

Sovereignty is the positive fact that a state can do what it wants in the territory it controls and other states won't do anything to stop it. It has no place in a normative argument.

I’d say since what the government should or should not do is fundamentally dependent on what it can and cannot do, sovereignty is perfectly germane to this discussion. The positive affects the normative.

One would hope -- indeed the founders of the United States declared -- that this sovereignty would be used to secure unalienable rights rather than to abrogate them.

Claiming that the US is in the right simply because it is sovereign places your argument on the side of many very unpleasant sovereign states of the past and present.

I don’t recall claiming that the US is right, or wrong. You're getting a lot out of one sentence.

David writes:

As Libertarian Hans-Hermann Hoppe says, for Jose to get to point B, he must cross many people's private property (including air space). Those owners may legitimately form an association to prevent or set conditions upon passage over their property. (Here's Hoppe's paper.) Even an arch-Libertarian recognizes that people have collective interests... which are called ...a nation, a polity.

I wonder if Kaplan is for unlimited open borders for Israel. Y'know, that being the "moral" policy and all.

MikeP writes:

Tony N,

The US has the sovereign power to open its borders, a power it exercised for a century and a half. It also has the sovereign power to execute everyone who's last name starts with a vowel.

Everything else is a normative.

James writes:
However, if a citizenist recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens, I can only dismiss him as a monster.

What if he is believes that moral realism and deontology are evolutionary biases, and skew to reality?

As a consequentialist utilitarian, to a close approximation my only goal is to increase the probability of humankind executing a positive singularity (whether intelligence-explosion or a more incremental kind).

As far as politics is concerned, I believe this end is best served by my taking decisions that increase the probability of USG and Western governments being rebooted at some point in the future, to make them more libertarian and soundly governed. This will allow a flourishing of science and genius to take place (at the moment, there's only Yudkowsky and his tiny SIAI working on FAI).

I don't believe that mass immigration increases the probability of this reboot, or that it is helpful in general to progress in AI science and other requisites for a positive singularity. Therefore, I oppose increases in immigration to the West.

Bryan Caplan's open-borders crusade might nudge USG's policy in the direction of increased immigration. Therefore, I would prefer it if he were to desist.

As for deontology, although I am not a moral realist, most other people are. Therefore, it is instrumentally useful (from a utilitarian perspective) to have them adopt certain moral beliefs rather than others. Given my beliefs, I find citizenism to be a useful deontology for Westerners to have.

Unfortunately, any useful (when seen from outside by a utilitarian) deontological system is inconsistent. Bryan accurately diagnoses that citizenism is "unfair"—but since open borders wouldn't lead to a utilitarian outcome, I am quite happy for First Worlders in general (who are not utilitarians) to prolong this inconsistency.

Nathan Smith writes:

I agree with Bryan, but I would put it in terms of moral side-constraints. A firm can-- may be obligated to-- maximize profits for its shareholders, and while a national government is not really very analogous to a firm, it is plausible that it should largely concern itself with the welfare of its citizens. But the firm is subject to moral side-constraints with respect to the methods it can use to maximize shareholder value: it can't murder, kidnap, etc. If we're going to accept Steve Sailer's analogy as valid, then national governments ought to be subject to the same moral side-constraints as firms; and this leads directly to open borders, since migration restrictions involve the use of a lot of force and violence, and firms aren't allowed to use force and violence. If you want to say that governments aren't subject to the same moral side-constraints as firms, fine. I'd actually agree: governments can use force. But that just shows that Steve Sailer's argument isn't valid. The question that follows is: if governments aren't subject to the same moral side-constraints as firms, what moral side-constraints are they subject to? None? That is a morally monstrous view, as Caplan says, and I doubt anyone commenting on this thread really accepts it. If some, then we need to go back to first principles to figure out what they are. That's what I did in my book Principles of a Free Society, and my conclusion was that justice does not permit governments to exercise anything like the kind or degree of migration control they have usurped since the early 20the century. Undocumented immigrants are acting justly, and the ICE lacks the moral warrants which would differentiate them from agents that performed similar actions on an entirely private basis.

shmiggen mghow writes:

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Udolpho writes:

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Luke Lea writes:

Dear Mr. Caplan, What happened to "we the people?" Did Lincoln get it wrong when he spoke in favor of a government "for the people." Did the Founding Fathers err when they included the phrase "ourselves and our posterity" in the Preamble? I hold to the idea that we should be the friend of freedom and justice everywhere but the champions only of our own.

To be honest, Mr. Caplan, I regard your opinion in this regard odious, outrageous, shameful, a form of disloyalty to your fellow countrymen, subversive of the principles upon which our republic is founded. If I were in the same room with you I would speak out most discourteously against you as holding a view unacceptable in polite society -- as unacceptable as racism or anti-Semitism, and just as dangerous. I would urge my fellow countrymen to do the same.

MikeP writes:

Diana,

The only thing citizens of one country owe citizens of other countries...

Try changing "country" to "race". Are you allowed to stop these others from traveling from point A to point B, taking a job at point B, or residing at point B?

Why or why not?

Danindc writes:

Think Caplan may want to quietly slink away because Sailer is making a mockery of his argument.

guthrie writes:

I have heard a rumor. I understand that my neighbor wants to hire the MN native ‘Andrew’ (if that’s his real name) because ‘Andrew’ charges less for the work than a noble-born Wisconsinite. Well, I say this is horrible, in spite of the fact that ‘Andrew’ does something that few in Wisconsin are able or willing to do, *especially* for that price he charges!

No, no, no… our leaders ought to keep my neighbor from hiring ‘Andrew’ no matter the cost. Does my neighbor opt not to hire anyone as a result? Not an issue! Does his business, shareholders, and customers suffer as a result? Not a concern! Does ‘Andrew’ suffer as a result of not being able to better his circumstances? Not even close to being relevant! I say I will help keep this business, with whom I have no direct dealings, from conducting business with a complete stranger who’s only (yet considerable) sin is that he isn’t from around here. Silly business owner, thinking he can peacefully transact with just anyone! Sheesh!

And I see no discrepancy between the idea that he will come here for employment and *at the same time* stress the welfare state! Nope, no contradiction there. While I’m no fan of the welfare state in general, it’s easier to spend millions to keep Andrew out of WI rather than reform the State’s wealth distribution network. Out, OUT, I say, stay OUT of WI Andrew!

James Bowery writes:

Caplan would deny the right of people to join together under mutual consent to pursue their strongly held beliefs about causal laws of human ecology by excluding from their territory those whom they consider incompatible with testing of those laws.

Caplan is an inhuman monster and he should be treated accordingly.

If I were on a jury that was trying someone for having done harm, of any nature whatsoever, to Mr. Caplan, I would vote to acquit.

Tony N writes:

@MikeP

I get you, but...

Notice my comment was aimed in the direction of those embroiled in the ownership discussion. The argument of some participating in that discussion can be, as I see it, crudely distilled as follows: one cannot deprive access to something one does not own.

I’d say there is a huge non-normative element there.

john oester writes:

So following your own children analogy, do you feel it morally appropriate to hold back any funds to allow your own children to live at anything more than the basest subsistence level, including a lack of all luxuries from shoes to a college education, while other people's children are starving throughout the world? If so, then your actions and irrational favoritism of your spawn, are allowing equally deserving children throughout the world to starve just so your children can have central air conditioning, a new winter coat, or other trapping of such a wasteful American lifestyle. I find you to be a monster that you can possibly sleep at night knowing how many children in Sudan could be saved today if you simply signed over your full paycheck to USAid without delay....the clock is ticking.

MikeP writes:

one cannot deprive access to something one does not own.

The state can decide to behead everyone whose last name starts with a vowel. Since the state can deprive you of your head, does that mean it owns your head?

Svigor writes:

Caplan wants to restrict the right of free speech to those who have email addies, so I'll repost in anticipation of having my comments removed:

Immigration restrictions are collectivism and anti-American in the same sense as telling me what I can do with my house is.

Libertarian unaware that banning restrictive covenants is telling him what he can do with his house, news at 11.

Jim Crow

Libertarian unaware that banning segregation and integration are of a coin, and just involve the gov't changing which party it's favoring, news at 11.

Jim Bowery nails it. Caplan is, at bottom, a misanthrope.

[By the way: EconLog's policy of requiring valid email addresses long predated Bryan Caplan's becoming a blogger here.

[Please read our long-standing rules and civility policies here: http://www.econlib.org/library/faqEconLog.html#commentbans--Econlib Ed.]

Tony N writes:

MikeP,

You do realize I am paraphrasing other people’s arguments?

Dominion is not dependent upon ownership. That’s my point. I do not own my children, yet it is universally recognized that I have authority over them. The extent of such authority is another question, but it’s a question my comment never addressed.

Simon in London writes:

"Of course I acknowledge fundamental moral obligations to all humans. But we still have a little moral latitude to favor fellow citizens."

I'm not sure I'm a Citizenist, but I feel we clearly do have a moral obligation to all fellow humans - not to harm them. If my child harms a stranger, I have a moral obligation to scold and punish my child to deter repeat behaviour. However it would be wrong of me to invite a stranger into my house to stay, displacing my child.

Likewise if my country wrongfully attacks or invades another country, I have a moral obligation to protest, and try to punish those responsible by eg voting to remove them from office. But it would be equally wrong to invite that country's citizens into my country, displacing my fellow countrymen.

A.W. Carus writes:
Dear Mr. Caplan, What happened to "we the people?" Did Lincoln get it wrong when he spoke in favor of a government "for the people." Did the Founding Fathers err when they included the phrase "ourselves and our posterity" in the Preamble? I hold to the idea that we should be the friend of freedom and justice everywhere but the champions only of our own.

Surely it's "odious, shameful, etc." and disrespectful to the memory of a great man to suggest that Lincoln was any sort of nativist (that what he meant by "the people" was a closed or permanently defined set). He sure didn't suggest instituting anything like our present post-WWI insanity of border controls, restricted visas, INS, etc. And I would classify the founding fathers as belonging to the (consistently cosmopolitan) Enlightenment, not to the Joe Arpaio types. By "the people" they meant whoever happens to be living here right now. There is nothing in the constitution or the bill of rights to suggest that the rights they guarantee were intended to apply only to some privileged subset of "citizens" and not other people.

Simon in London writes:

"can you really in good conscience take the side of a citizen who wants to deny foreigners permission to work so he can get a better job?"

The equivalent here is not letting your child slash the stranger's tires. The equivalent is saying that it would be morally wrong to favour your child over a stranger in deciding who to give a job to.

I don't see anything wrong with favouring my child in that circumstance; maybe you do.

MikeP writes:

Tony N,

No one is questioning sovereignty or dominion.

It's simply that neither is helpful in determining what a state should do with its sovereign power in its dominion. So why bring it up except to obfuscate the normative argument?

Svigor writes:

If we're going to accept Steve Sailer's analogy as valid, then national governments ought to be subject to the same moral side-constraints as firms; and this leads directly to open borders, since migration restrictions involve the use of a lot of force and violence, and firms aren't allowed to use force and violence. If you want to say that governments aren't subject to the same moral side-constraints as firms, fine. I'd actually agree: governments can use force. But that just shows that Steve Sailer's argument isn't valid. The question that follows is: if governments aren't subject to the same moral side-constraints as firms, what moral side-constraints are they subject to? None? That is a morally monstrous view, as Caplan says, and I doubt anyone commenting on this thread really accepts it. If some, then we need to go back to first principles to figure out what they are. That's what I did in my book Principles of a Free Society, and my conclusion was that justice does not permit governments to exercise anything like the kind or degree of migration control they have usurped since the early 20the century. Undocumented immigrants are acting justly, and the ICE lacks the moral warrants which would differentiate them from agents that performed similar actions on an entirely private basis.

Huh? Firms can use force and violence, too. They'll no more let you break into their property than a proper gov't will let you break into their territory.

You skipped the part where you actually showed how Sailer's argument isn't valid, btw. That's like skipping the pie filling.

But I did like the part where you obviated the morality of nations, states, or pretty much any kind of collective human endeavor. But no, "libertarianism" isn't absurdly ideological or misanthropic, or anything.

There is no such thing as libertarianism, according to libertarians; they have no right to any territory, after all. And I thought liberalism carried the seed of its own destruction! Libertarians can't even justify keeping enemy nukes out of their own territory. Well, they might be able to justify it, but none of the measures they'd have to take to do so.

Tony N writes:

MikeP,

Yes they were. They were questioning the state's rights in the absence of ownership.

Simon in London writes:

John Thacker:
"I don't view letting someone into the country as "giving them something," I view it as not treating them unfairly and not cheating in the job market."

Not letting the foreigner immigrate into your country is equivalent to not letting the stranger into your house. Whether you regard that as omission or commission in either case is up to you, I would think that it tends to involve both.

Simon in London writes:

"No, it isn't. The government governs a territory. It does not own it. And there is nothing in any theory whatsoever that requires that a government own a territory to govern it. Indeed, the very thought is a quite unAmerican notion."

The people own the country. The government does not* own the country. The government holds the country in trust for the people, and their posterity.

*I think my (British) government claims they, the Crown-in-Parliament, owns my country by right of conquest derived from William the Conqueror. But the US govt does not.

AMac writes:

There are 1.2 billion people in India today; about 820 million of whom live on less than US$2 per day (Wikipedia). I estimate that about half of these folks would prefer to move permanently to the U.S. (population 315 million), if given the opportunity.

As an American citizen, I enthusiastically support such a migration. While this position is derived from my libertarian principals, I note in passing that it would also bring many benefits to the U.S.

I dismiss anyone who thinks otherwise as a monster.

Svigor writes:

And I would classify the founding fathers as belonging to the (consistently cosmopolitan) Enlightenment, not to the Joe Arpaio types. By "the people" they meant whoever happens to be living here right now. There is nothing in the constitution or the bill of rights to suggest that the rights they guarantee were intended to apply only to some privileged subset of "citizens" and not other people.

The founders passed a law restricting immigration to white people.

Steve writes:

you are reasoning in extremes, of course there are various degree of favoritism. Not punishing your children if they hurt somebody is extreme favoritism, but that doesn't mean that you should pursue non favoritism to the extreme and serve your children cat food so that you can use what you save to buy food for starving kids in africa.

Dave writes:

Interesting that discussing overcrowding and overuse of public resources is considered a '3AM agrument' while killing everyone with a last name ending in a vowel is considered a valid point.

I would say the later is much more far fetched than the former.

Schools, highways and natural resources are indeed being overburden by population expansion. Don't see too many calls for killing people based on spelling of last name.

Bob writes:

Mr. Caplan, a foreign national who has entered this nation illegally does not have a fundamental right to work here. How you extend that to equivalent to no moral obligation to that same person is the absurd part. Of course we have an obligation to treat that person with the same dignity and respect we would show any stranger as we politely send him on his way back home.

In a free market human flesh will be available by the pound as well, but to suggest that capitalism is immoral based on this fact is just as absurd.

MikeP writes:

The moderator is trying to restrict undocumented posters! All who want to come here and post should be free to!

They are. They just have to fill out the right form and get their visa.

Too bad the US borders aren't like that. The only reason immigrants are undocumented is because they can't get a visa.

[The comment you have quoted has been removed.--EconLog Ed.]

Mike Steinberg writes:
My question for citizenists everywhere: If you think you're often morally obligated to suppress the favoritism you naturally feel for your children, why aren't you morally obligated to suppress the far milder favoritism you naturally feel for your fellow citizens? Once you suppress this favoritism, can you really in good conscience take the side of a citizen who wants to deny foreigners permission to work so he can get a better job?

How many billion people would like to move to work in the US or other wealthy countries?

Taking your approach and a basic knowledge of human biodiversity, those countries would quickly be overwhelmed, they would become dysfunctional and living standards would decline. Any welfare safety net would also be overburdened.

See Garrett Hardin's "Lifeboat Ethics".

http://www.garretthardinsociety.org/articles/art_lifeboat_ethics_case_against_helping_poor.html

Svigor writes:

[By the way: EconLog's policy of requiring valid email addresses long predated Bryan Caplan's becoming a blogger here.

Makes perfect sense to me. But why Caplan is willing to put up with this and associate with such egregious offenders of the rights of undocumented posters (thanks Alfonso, I love that) is beyond me.

Alfonso Dupont writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address and for name-calling. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring your comment privileges. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk. Rudeness is not permitted.--Econlib Ed.]

Steve writes:

MikeP; he was clearly joking. Regarding your argument, you are starting from the conclusion, ie that everyone who request a visa should receive it, while the point is to argue if this should or should not be the case, if this people should or shouldn't be allowed into the Usa

Maurice Levin writes:

Excellent post. I'm forwarding it my cousin who just entered his term of service in the IDF. Apparently the government of Israel has just finished drastically reducing the number of Africans who move across their borders to enter into private economic agreements with Israelis. There really isn't any valid public policy reason for this outrageous restriction of liberty you skewer so well. After all, the Palestinians can attest to the fact that voluntary, uncontrolled immigration into their territory didn't expand into any larger social problems for them.

Svigor writes:

Libertarians say citizens don't own the country. I say we do. That's what we call a fundamental disagreement.

But libertarians seem to be saying that citizens cannot own a country - any country. That's what I call a fundamental disagreement that I'm willing to go to war over. I acknowledge libertarians' right to "have" a country owned by no one (for the five days it would take a smarter group to take it from them). But libertarians do not recognize my right to have a country owned by its citizens. In fact, they seem to be denying it. Is that the case? If so, it seems to me that libertarians are denying my fundamental rights, which I find offensive and monstrous. More to the point, I'll say it again: I'm willing to go to war over the matter. In fact, I'd jump at the opportunity to go to war over the matter.

MikeP writes:

I had to fill out the form too. To my knowledge, only the bloggers and the editor are citizens. The rest of us are merely unlimited residents.

Dave writes:

The strange thing about Bryan's counter argument(s) is that they seem to argue against the idea of a corporation in general.

Does he believe in the corporate structure and the duty to shareholders? If so, then he needs to answer his own question - how does he justify a corporation while limiting the CEO ability to do certain acts.

Normally, it is stated that you have a duty to the shareholders while also acting within the law. Baisic stuff, and Bryan's failure to make this clear suggests he is not debating in good faith.


Vipul Naik writes:

Steve Sailer:

Vipul Naik writes:

"Steve Z makes the killing versus letting die distinction."

Mexico is, after America, the second most obese country on earth, according to a recent OECD study. Nobody is being "let die" of starvation by keeping the next 10 million Mexicans out.

First, "killing versus letting die" is about the distinction between killing (or more generally, causing a harm) and letting die (or more generally, failing to confer a benefit). The link in my original comment clearly explains this.

Second, migration from Mexico to the US is peanuts in the open borders scheme. Your beef with the status quo may have a lot to do with Mexico and the US, but "open borders" advocates (like Caplan or myself) are not focused on Mexico. They want to see freer migration between all parts of the world, much of which, as you're so fond of pointing out, is poorer than Mexico. Under open borders, there may well be people who escape starvation. If you want to dispute that, go ahead, but restricting to Mexico doesn't help your case. And if you look at migration worldwide, then yes, closed borders do kill people.

guthrie writes:

Yesss… I OWN Wisconsin! As such I declare all who would move here anathema and those who would travel here suspect! Fie upon you Chicagoans who come to *my* lakes and deplete our lakes of fish! A pox upon thee Upers, who slaughter *my* deer, and who’s dialect is nearly incomprehensible! And to Andrew, from the hated state of Minnesota, I swear before Zeus, Jebus, and the most Holy Flying Spaghetti Monster that I will muster all within my power… constructing straw-men… false analogies… extreme examples which bend the laws of time/space… to resist your entering my august, albeit imaginary, property… the entire state of Wisconsin! Forward!!

Dave writes:

So, it seems that if the founding father's just started America as a corporation, designated its inhabitants shareholders rather than citizens and then claimed ownership of all the land withing in its borders, there would be no objection to keeping non-owners out.

I guess that is OK, but it seems to be more a matter of semantics that real policy difference.

A.W. Carus writes:

Like most of the (non-nativist) commenters here, I reject Caplan's starting point, the analogy between shareholders in a company and citizens of a nation-state. But even if you accept that aspect, the specific analogy suggested is inaccurate. When you issue new shares without any corresponding new asset, you are indeed diluting existing shareholders. But if you issue new shares to acquire a new asset, then you are, at least in principle, not diluting or otherwise swindling the shareholders. The latter, and not the former, is what immigration should be compared to.

Svigor writes:

No! No one owns Wisconsin! It's the property of all featherless bipeds! If the entire population of India and China want to move to Wisconsin (and they do), they must be allowed to do so! Fie upon those Americans who think the founders had the right to restrict immigration to whites only! Racists and sexists! I know the Founders' beliefs better than the Founders did! Firing upon all those Brits immigrating in 1776 was illegal, immoral, and monstrous!

Individual rights are the only valid rights! Individuals have no right to pool their individual rights into collective rights and make collective decisions! Because, er, individuals rule! Until they want to pool their rights - then they're evil collectivist commies, and suddenly individual rights mean nothing!

Anybody can use an exclamation point.

Hannah Levin-Rosenberg writes:

Most impoverished overseas people do not have the resources to come to America. To anyone other than Caplan's libertarian commenters, this is pretty obvious.

Hannah Levin-Rosenberg writes:

I would not call 10 million Mexicans an "assent" even if I were trying to offload them onto Canada.

Let me make this very clear.

The rules for posting on EconLog are available at http://www.econlib.org/library/faqEconLog.html#commentbans. These policies have been in effect since EconLog began.

It is fine to disagree politely with someone else. Name-calling, badmouthing people, using rude or crude language, however, are all off limits. If you see someone respond rudely, please ignore it. Please do not quote it or respond to it. If it violates our rules, I'll eventually find it and remove it.

Providing a valid, functioning email address, including responding to our email if we check it is a requirement in order to validate your comment privileges. Failing to provide a valid email address is a violation of our rules.

Because so many people have violated the rules in this thread, these rules--including the email validation rule--are going to be strictly enforced here.

If the name-calling, rudeness, and supplying of false email addresses continues in this thread, we will unfortunately have to shut comments down in this thread. I prefer not to do that because of all the legitimate comments and attempts at civilized discussion or debate. We expect our regular commenters to set a high standard and not descend into the rudeness of newcomers.

Hannah Levin-Rosenberg writes:

I completely agree with Lauren. This is not a country with borders, it is an intellectual salon intended for use by those of a high IQ and/or penchant for social justice.

Dave writes:

a) If people are hungry outside your house must you let them in? Do you have to feed them? Do you have to allow them to stay forever?

b) If people are hungry outside the walls of a corporation must the corporation let them in? Must it feed them? How long must they be allowed to stay?

c) If people are hungry in a nation located 10,000 miles away must you let them in? Must you feed them? Should they be allowed to stay forever?

If the answers for a,b or c are not all the same then explain why they are different. Be specific as to how the nature of the entity makes the difference justified.

At least a socialist will be consistent on this.

Libertarians are very confused as it is difficult to draw such a huge distinction between private rights and national rights.

MikeP writes:

Libertarians are very confused as it is difficult to draw such a huge distinction between private rights and national rights.

Libertarians believe there is no such thing as national rights, so the distinction is easy.

joe writes:

hang the race traitors!
hang the immigration traitors!
hang the war mongers!
Hang the corporate toadies!

/all by rule of law of course....
/offer may be void in some states....

James Bowery writes:

Both Caplan and AMac are inhuman monsters that would deny the right of people to join together under mutual consent to pursue their strongly held beliefs about causal laws of human ecology by excluding from their territory those whom they consider incompatible with testing of those laws.

That these inhuman monsters call others "monsters" should be expected since, however inhuman they may be, they do possess the gift of gab.

If I were on a jury that was trying someone for having done harm, of any nature whatsoever, to AMac or Caplan, I would vote to acquit.

Moreover, there is no greater cause for liberty than to identify such inhuman monsters, whether they call themselves "libertarians" or "liberals" or "neoconservatives", as the primary enemies of liberty that today wield the power of tyranny over mankind.

Any proper use of military force would have as its declaration of war that a state of peace may once again reign once these inhuman monsters no longer wield any powers of government.

Eli Silverstein writes:

Closed borders are a social construct and LITERALLY murder.

Greg Rosenberg writes:

Nationalism is racism, which has been made acceptable by borders.

If you are racist then get a job as an immigration officer and revel in the power it gives you over others.

Going back a few thousand millenia.... environmental selection has encouraged species protection. It is good sense to protect those that are like you and destroy those who are not. In this way you assist natural selection in favouring your genetic code.

Thus racism is a bioligical imperative. I do not suggest that this excuses it. I simply aim to understand where this trait comes from. THe same as it is possible to explain murder as a biological imperative. I am not attempting to concone it.

In South Africa, the white governement forced all black SA to carry a passbook, which any police officer could demand at any time. The similarity between the passbook and a passport is almost complete. Black South africans were treated as forieners in there own country. The world decided it was unacceptable for any one group to descrimanate against another group within the borders of its country.

However, every country in the world descrimanates against all foriegners evenly and this is considered acceptable. What gives a country the right to use its borders as an excuse to classify people. All people are equal.

What if there were no borders. People still belonged to one country, htere were seperate governements, much like the states of countries. But no border guards or immigration officers. People could move in and out of countries at will. What purpose do borders serve at all. They are an illision of security. Unless a country is surrounded by a Fence then it is easy to enter a country if you want to.

Aaron writes:

I will share a story about my youth with you all, if that helps shed some light on how passionately many libertarians feel about this issue.

As a child I was diagnosed with autism, was not popular and never played team sports. I have often found it difficult to create relationships with the people around me because I am an outlier - not exactly 'neurotypical.'

Well if you are unusual, you may appreciate having a larger, broader population from which to draw potential friends. You have a better chance of finding friends you have something in common with. It is hard for an autistic person to find friends in a small town, and I would very much recent these 'townies' from preventing new immigrants from moving in to play with me. And if these townies pretended like they really knew what the immigrants were like inside - before even having tried to talk to them!

All my life I have been keenly aware of how difficult it is for many people to get over their social prejudices and connect with me and one another. The immigration battle is another in a long war on this front.

Steve Z writes:

Vipul Naik,

I'm not actually not making the killing v. letting die distinction (which I tend to call the act vs. omission distinction). I said that there is a difference between disciplining your child when they do wrong and allowing them to come to harm for the benefit of strangers, but I might just as well have said there is a difference between allowing your child to fall into bad habits and harming them for the benefit of strangers. In all cases, the relevant principle is that you should look out for your kids - the act vs. omission distinction is unimportant.

By the way, I answered your request about the Flynn effect and micronutrients. I hope it was convincing. I also posed a thought experiment, which I would be interested in hearing your answer to. Let me know.

Hannah Levin-Rosenberg writes:

What many people do not understand is that borders are illogical. This is a conclusion I arrived at by asking myself whether it made any sense to restrict where people go. Clearly, it does not make any sense.

It is a proven fact that immigrants raise the standard of living, increase salaries, create better families, are more productive at work, and contribute more to communities. As a logical conclusion, we should have a plan to expel descendents of our native population and replace them with superior immigrants.

Of course there should be at least 2% of the original native population in place to oversee this process. This group should consist of high achieving elites who have a strong devotion to America as a "proposition nation".

Evan writes:

john oester says:

I find you to be a monster that you can possibly sleep at night knowing how many children in Sudan could be saved today if you simply signed over your full paycheck to USAid without delay....the clock is ticking.

Even if you believe that helping strangers is superogatory, like Bryan does, you should still acknowledge that people who choose to do it are simply better than you. I don't see how this is controversial. If someone really does sign over the majority of their paycheck to USAid they are a morally better person than someone who doesn't. Does anyone honestly dispute this?

It doesn't matter if you believe such actions are morally praiseworthy, rather than morally obligatory. If someone does something like that they deserve a whole lot of praise for being so much more awesome then all the other people around them.

The same goes for advocating open borders. Even if I were to concede that people who don't want to open the borders are not morally obligated to do so, I am still duty-bound to praise the heck out of Bryan for doing the superogatory thing and trying to help all those strangers by getting the borders open. He is morally awesome, and the rest of you are not.

That being said, I don't concede that open borders are superogatory. I see closed borders as morally equivalent to Michael Huemer's "Starvin Marvin" case. And I might go further than Huemer and say that Starvin Marvin has a limited right to trespass over people's private property if it is the only way to get to the market in time to save himself. It's what I would do if I was in his shoes. And none of you lie and pretend it isn't what you would do either.

I think citizenism is just primitive, brutal tribalism writ large. I react to Steve Sailer's citizenism with the same horror and disgust with which Sailer reacted to the racist policies of the New Orleans government. I think that Sailer's citizenism is morally identical in every way to the disgusting racialist policies he described in that article. (I don't know how accurate that article is, but let's pretend it is for the sake of the argument)

Bryan says:

However, if a citizenist recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens, I can only dismiss him as a monster. The same goes if the citizenist says he recognizes some moral obligations to non-citizens, but then refuses to specify them or seriously consider whether the policies he advocates violate these obligations.

I think the problem is that Bryan isn't specifying the sort of moral obligations that citizenists refuse to comment upon. So I'll give it a shot with a few contrived moral dilemmas designed to root out their priorities:

1. If the only way to save a citizen was to kill a noncitizen, would you do it? What about killing 2 noncitizens to save one noncitizen? What about a 10:1 ratio? 100:1? 1,000,000:1? 1,000,000,000:1? Exactly how less morally valuable than a citizen is a noncitizen to you? For the sake of the argument please ignore the massive effects on the global economy that killing a billion noncitizens would have?

2. A philanthropist entrusts you with a million dollars, telling you that you can donate it to either saving dying children in a foreign country, or improving the grounds of your local college. What percent of the money would you give to each cause?

3. If you were transported back into an era when there were no countries and everyone was divided into tribes, would you advocate abolishing tribalism and erecting a nation-state with citizenist ideals in its place? If so, please explain how citizenism differs from tribalism in kind, rather than merely degree. Assume you will suffer no reprisals from the tribe that adopts you for your advocacy.

4. Your son/daughter has terminal cancer. The government of another country has recently discovered a cure for their type of cancer, but is hoarding it and only giving it to people who renounce their current citizenship and permanently becomes a citizen of their country. The government of that country is otherwise benign enough that you and your child wouldn't suffer much living there. Would you move to that country with your child and become its citizens to get the cure? After doing so, would you stop caring about the citizens of your original country?

BZ writes:

I seriously wonder whether the notion of human rights and private property enter the consideration of some commenters. Perhaps they reject it on collectivist terms, but I can't tell.

@guthrie - You sir, need to Post More.

Dr. T. B. Freeman, PhD writes:

[Comment removed pending confirmation of email address. Email the webmaster@econlib.org to request restoring this comment. A valid email address is required to post comments on EconLog and EconTalk.--Econlib Ed.]

Steve Sailer writes:

"We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty TO OURSELVES AND OUR POSTERITY, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America."

All caps mine -- Steve

Simon in London writes:

BZ:
"I seriously wonder whether the notion of human rights and private property enter the consideration of some commenters. Perhaps they reject it on collectivist terms, but I can't tell."

Property Rights - a good idea. They only exist when enforced by the group/community/State, of course.

Human Rights - Nonsense On Stilts, as Bentham correctly said.

Dave writes:

The problem you have is private property very much involves the concept of a 'border'. There are borders between yards, farms, oil fields and corporate campuses, for example.

You are willing to defend the idea of a private property border, but not a national border. The two are probably more similar than different and they are certainly not different enough to justify the radically different treatment you propose.

Also, as I mention above, it would be trivial to just create a country in the form of a corporation and then you are left completely exposed as to why the border should not be enforced.


guthrie writes:

People get so serious about this topic, BZ... a little levity is usually in order... thanks! :)

@Seve Sailer, yes, that is exclusive to all who happen cross the border. At that point, once they cross that imaginary line, they transform from a 'they' to the 'our' or 'we' mentioned in that paragraph. Yes? ;)

Severn writes:
"If allowing a peaceful worker to accept a job offer from a peaceful employer isn't a fundamental moral obligation, what is?"

Let's see if you listen respectfully to my reply. Why do libertarians think that everybody else in the world has an obligation to submit to libertarian notions of morality? What if we think your morality is self-serving nonsense?

ColRebSez writes:

There is a big difference between murdering people and not allowing people to enter one's country.

Each country exists for the benefit of its citizens and its citizens only. Foreigners who are denied opportunities in this country can return to their own country and take advantage of opportunities there.

Zazooba writes:

Caplan and Sailer should just go head-to-head. It would be very enlightening. And much clearer.

Caplan, why don't you set up a thread for that purpose?

Severn writes:
please explain how citizenism differs from tribalism in kind, rather than merely degree

Given your desire that the US abolish its borders so that the poor people of the world may better their lot by coming to America, please explain how your conception of libertarianism differs from international socialism in kind rather than merely in degree.

Svigor writes:

I want to preface this by saying that "liberaltarian" is not crude or offensive. It is simply accurate. "Liberaltarians" are liberals pretending to be libertarians.

1. If the only way to save a citizen was to kill a noncitizen, would you do it? What about killing 2 noncitizens to save one noncitizen? What about a 10:1 ratio? 100:1? 1,000,000:1? 1,000,000,000:1? Exactly how less morally valuable than a citizen is a noncitizen to you? For the sake of the argument please ignore the massive effects on the global economy that killing a billion noncitizens would have?

If the only way to save a non-citizen from the misery created by his fellow non-citizens was to take all sovereignty and liberty away from Americans, would you do it? Apparently, the liberaltarian answer is a resounding "yes."

If not, how many non-citizens' happiness is Americans' sovereignty and liberty worth? 10? 100? 1000?

Libertarians abide by "live and let live." Liberaltarians do not; they think "live and let live" is monstrous.

2. A philanthropist entrusts you with a million dollars, telling you that you can donate it to either saving dying children in a foreign country, or improving the grounds of your local college. What percent of the money would you give to each cause?

How many Americans would liberaltarians enslave to save one non-American from poverty? All of them, apparently. Liberaltarians would rather deny Americans' right to dispose of their property as they will than let Mexicans live according to their own means.

3. If you were transported back into an era when there were no countries and everyone was divided into tribes, would you advocate abolishing tribalism and erecting a nation-state with citizenist ideals in its place? If so, please explain how citizenism differs from tribalism in kind, rather than merely degree. Assume you will suffer no reprisals from the tribe that adopts you for your advocacy.

If you could argue without resorting to epithets like "tribalism," would you? Worse yet, if you were arguing with someone who wasn't a liberaltarian ideologue, and who didn't consider "tribalism" a bad thing, would you? Or would you just rely on the censorship from the "moderators" to simply censor opposing viewpoints?

4. Your son/daughter has terminal cancer. The government of another country has recently discovered a cure for their type of cancer, but is hoarding it and only giving it to people who renounce their current citizenship and permanently becomes a citizen of their country. The government of that country is otherwise benign enough that you and your child wouldn't suffer much living there. Would you move to that country with your child and become its citizens to get the cure? After doing so, would you stop caring about the citizens of your original country?

Hey, this is fun.

4a: If you press button 1, liberaltarian ideas will be enacted nation-wide, but China will be nuked into oblivion. If you press button 2, liberaltarian ideas will be forever rejected nation-wide, but China will be spared. Which button do you press?

4b: If you press button 1, your wife's head will explode, but Mexicans will be allowed free movement across the US border. If you press button 2, your wife will be spared, but Mexicans will be denied free movement across the US border. Which button do you press?

4c: If you press button 1, no one will ever again be allowed to offer silly choices that put people's friends and family up on the chopping block so as to obscure the real issues with personal ones (which is not at all the same thing to making a comparison between national and individual rights). If you press 2, the quality of political arguments will not be enhanced, but people will be freer to make silly arguments, and freedom is good. Which button do you press?

Svigor writes:

Even if you believe that helping strangers is superogatory, like Bryan does, you should still acknowledge that people who choose to do it are simply better than you. I don't see how this is controversial. If someone really does sign over the majority of their paycheck to USAid they are a morally better person than someone who doesn't. Does anyone honestly dispute this?

I do. How do I know what USAid does with their money? E.g., if it's going to Africa, it's doing more harm than good in the long run. The Africans will use it to overshoot the carrying capacity they create. I.e., they will overpopulate. Then, when my largesse ends, their children will starve to death; I will have paved the road to hell with my good intentions.

Anthony writes:

@Evan: We respect the person who gives their money to the poor because they are sacrificing for others. Bryan doesn't think there'd be a sacrifice for him because he thinks the effects of open borders would be positive for Americans overall, and certainly for Americans like him. I disagree with this first part, but I agree with the second part: Bryan would be insulated from the negative effects of increased unskilled immigration. So in Bryan's view, he's not sacrificing for others because there's no sacrifice occurring. In my view, there's a sacrifice occurring, but it's not his. In that case, he's not the person giving away his money to poor people, he's the person suggesting that other peoples' money be given away to poor people. In either view, there's no self-sacrifice occurring. If you want to argue there's self-sacrifice, you have to argue that Bryan would incur significant negative effects under open borders. I'm open to that argument if you'd like to make it.

Steve Sailer writes:

Imagine there's no countries
It isn't hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You, you may say
I'm a dreamer, but I'm not the only one
I hope some day you'll join us
And the world will live as one

Severn writes:

".. it is quite consistent with the dictates of liberty and the concept of property they imply, that the country is not a no man's land at all, but the extension of a home. Privacy and the right to exclude strangers from it is only a little less obviously an attribute of it than it is of one's house. Its infrastructure, its amenities, its public order have been built up by generations of its inhabitants. These things have value that belongs to their builders and the builders' heirs, and the latter are arguably at liberty to share or not to share them with immigrants who, in their countries of origin, do not have as good infrastructure, amenities and public order. Those who claim that in the name of liberty they must let any and all would-be immigrants take a share are, then, not liberals but socialists professing share-and-share alike egalitarianism on an international scale."

Economist Anthony de Jasay

guthrie writes:

The state of Wisconsin has chosen... collectively... to place a border around the word 'Marriage', and only opens that border to couples comprised of opposite genders. I'm certain our citizenists here would (well should) have no objective objection to this collective ruling, yes? The happiness and well-being of a few cannot possibly outweigh the imposition of collective will, right?

Steve Z writes:
1. If the only way to save a citizen was to kill a noncitizen, would you do it? What about killing 2 noncitizens to save one noncitizen? What about a 10:1 ratio? 100:1? 1,000,000:1? 1,000,000,000:1? Exactly how less morally valuable than a citizen is a noncitizen to you? For the sake of the argument please ignore the massive effects on the global economy that killing a billion noncitizens would have?

I don't know what my indifference point is, precisely. I suspect I'd have to face the problem in the real world to find out. By revealed preference, though, I prefer non-unlimited open borders to open borders, which implies that the ratio is closer to 10^7:1 than to 10:1.

2. A philanthropist entrusts you with a million dollars, telling you that you can donate it to either saving dying children in a foreign country, or improving the grounds of your local college. What percent of the money would you give to each cause?

I would keep the money and invest it for the benefit of my family. If that were not an option, I'd improve the college. Money isn't going to buy better institutions or create a new populace, but flawed institutions are why kids are dying overseas. With the new college grounds, I'd at least have a nice picnicking location.

3. If you were transported back into an era when there were no countries and everyone was divided into tribes, would you advocate abolishing tribalism and erecting a nation-state with citizenist ideals in its place? If so, please explain how citizenism differs from tribalism in kind, rather than merely degree. Assume you will suffer no reprisals from the tribe that adopts you for your advocacy.

This hypothetical is too far removed from my lived experience to fruitfully answer. I would probably be more focused on extracting foods and rents from other tribes than universal notions. Pax Romana and all.

4. Your son/daughter has terminal cancer. The government of another country has recently discovered a cure for their type of cancer, but is hoarding it and only giving it to people who renounce their current citizenship and permanently becomes a citizen of their country. The government of that country is otherwise benign enough that you and your child wouldn't suffer much living there. Would you move to that country with your child and become its citizens to get the cure? After doing so, would you stop caring about the citizens of your original country?

Yes. No.

If you please, take a gander at my thought experiment in the previous Caplan thread on immigration.

Severn writes:
"The state of Wisconsin has chosen... collectively... to place a border around the word 'Marriage', and only opens that border to couples comprised of opposite genders. I'm certain our citizenists here would (well should) have no objective objection to this collective ruling, yes? The happiness and well-being of a few cannot possibly outweigh the imposition of collective will, right?"

Yes, and right. Granting "happiness and well-being" is not in the states remit. Like all liberals, having abandoned God you have have not lost the religious impulse - you merely transferred it to the state, which is now in the business of dispensing all sorts of material and psychological goodies to its adherents.

Severn writes:
"can you really in good conscience take the side of a citizen who wants to deny foreigners permission to work so he can get a better job?"

Well, yes. I can. With very good conscience.

To paraphrase Irving Kristol, the problem with Byran Caplan is that he's basically a wannabe rabbi who thinks he's an economist. So we get these incessant finger-wagging lectures on how we should think and behave if we were properly moral.

[Severn's comments were held in limbo because of my error. I was unable to find his email validations, which were thrown into a spam folder. I am deeply sorry.--Econlib Ed.]

Dave writes:
please explain how citizenism differs from tribalism in kind, rather than merely degree


Easy, citizens can be of completely different races and often are.

Tribalism is by definition about people of 'your tribe' and therefore race.

Citizens represent a group of people who come together to form and entity with rules under which they can live. The citizens can be anyone who is present at the time the entity (country) is started or who are allowed to join later on.

This is much like a company where carefully selected shareholders form a corporation and then work to the benefit of those shareholders to the exclusion of others.

Svigor writes:

"The state of Wisconsin has chosen... collectively... to place a border around the word 'Marriage', and only opens that border to couples comprised of opposite genders. I'm certain our citizenists here would (well should) have no objective objection to this collective ruling, yes? The happiness and well-being of a few cannot possibly outweigh the imposition of collective will, right?"

I'm no citizenist. I'm an ethnopatriot. Believe it or not, I hold many values in common with libertarians, though few with liberaltarians (Liberaltarians are to Libertarians as Neoconservatives are to Conservatives).

No, I have no objection to that collective ruling. Marriage IS man + woman, so I have no problem with a ruling that upholds that obvious point. If two people want to form a contract saying they're in a "homosexual marriage," hey, more power to them. Live and let live, I say. That in no way translates into "we must enshrine into law the equivalency of marriage and 'homosexual marriage.'"

Oh, and before you try, let me save you the embarrassment of the "equal protection" argument; homosexuals have had the same rights to marriage as anyone else from day one. Redefining marriage to include "homosexual marriage" is not "equal protection," it's redefining marriage into something it's not to satisfy a tiny minority that doesn't even seem to show much interest in "marrying" others of their kind, even when the perversion is legally enshrined.

Steve Sailer writes:

"Comment removed pending confirmation of email address"

All these poor undocumented commenters fundamental moral right to engage freely in discussion is being discriminated against!

Free the Undocumented Commenters!

Mike writes:

AMac-

I've been to India.

I am opposed to letting half the population of India move here.

I'll note that the government of India made it very difficult for me to get a visa to travel there.

This is not a racial issue for me. It is cultural. There is a distinction. I found living among the ethnic Indians of Mauritius to be pleasant. Starting with my dealings with the Indian High Commission, I found the culture of and institutions of India to be much less pleasant. To suggest it would be a good thing to let citizens of that culture become the majority in the U.S. is foolishness of the highest order.

Such a move would overwhelm the very institutions and customs that make the U.S. a desirable place. I'll leave it to Sailer to make the other arguments (PISA scores?).

I acknowledge the 3am dorm room nature of my statement. But you will have to also recognize that you have made a 3am dorm room statement by calling me a monster. But I'll tell you this: your calling me a monster concerns me not one whit.

I too consider myself a libertarian. As such I will work hard to prevent the U.S. from losing its relative status as a libertarian paradise.

Yan Shen writes:

I pointed out on Steve Sailer's blog that globalization isn't necessarily a zero sum game. Certainly one example where everyone benefits is limited high IQ immigration.

Yan Shen writes:

So while Bryan seems to have focused on the idea that moral obligations trump nationalistic/economic ones, I'm arguing that even Steve's economic argument misses the point, mainly that globalization isn't necessarily a zero-sum game. The lives of American citizens can be improved from a purely material point of view as a result of limited high quality immigration.

That being said, I think a reasonable middle ground can be found here. It's hard to argue that a country shouldn't favor the welfare of its own citizens over those of other countries in any respect whatsoever. Otherwise, what would be the point of even having nations? I think it's about finding the right balance and realizing that globalization really isn't a zero-sum game. There's danger in veering towards too extreme a position on either end of the spectrum, i.e. nationalistic/protectionist versus completely open borders.

David writes:

The best argument is the Holocaust.

The government must not stop anyone who wants to come to America, because otherwise Hitler will gas my grandma. Expanding this argument, a town must not stop anyone - say, a motorcycle gang - from coming into the town. The streets of the town do not belong to the taxpayers, administered ultimately by their elected representatives. The sewer system of the town does not belong to the taxpayers, administered ultimately by their elected representatives. Nothing about the town is owned by anyone in the town. In fact, there is no "town." Infrastructure and government are mere constructs that don't exist. What exists is only THIS patch of dirt and THAT patch of dirt, and I want to put my foot on THAT patch of dirt, and fascists are trying to stop me.

The town belongs to whomever wants to come. Except, "town," of course, is merely a fiction.

The concept of externalities is also a fiction, invented by fascists who want to control other people from motives of immorality, of sheer meanness.

If I am running to escape my persecutor, I have the right to break into your house to hide. I have the right to claim any usufructs in the "town." I have the right to anything I please because altruism as I interpret it trumps absolutely everything, at least on the moral plain - and it should trump everything on the legal and economic and physical plains, too.

On a lighter note, if I wish to bring a man-eating tiger with me, and someone is enough of an awesome altruist to choose voluntarily to host me and my man-eating tiger and its cubs in his apartment, then I have the clear right to do so. Other residents in the apartment who object to this are no more than third-party buttinskies, outrageous moral monsters who have no right to say anything about my tigers, period. I don't care how laughably "endangered" their silly children feel.

For these logical reasons, no one must object if 100 million people descend on hospitals, schools, and neighborhoods and destroy the property value therein. All immigrants are Einstein; but even if some immigrants are not Einstein, all are human, and all have a right to listen to music at top volume day and night, and all have a right to settle disputes among themselves and others according to their voluntary folkways, which may or not include the use of bullets. It is not for a moral person to judge others.

But the most important point I would like to make, is that anyone who disagrees with me is thinking the thoughts of the Nazi Party. I think all reasonable people can agree on that. Thank you.

Candide III writes:
Me: Well, suppose I could help current stockholders by poisoning the products of our competitors, leading to the deaths of thousands of children. Do I have an obligation to do that?

Prof: Are you out of your mind? That's murder!

Me: Oh, right. Well, suppose I could help current stockholders by kidnapping the CEOs of firms that try to hire away our workers? Am I obliged to do so?

Prof: No! You're obliged not to kidnap anyone.

Bryan, you are being facetious here, whether intentionally or no. You are substituting a moral obligation in place of a legal obligation. The CEO has no moral obligation whatsoever to prevent him from poisoning competitors' products. He has a legal obligation to uphold the law of the land, which just happens to prohibit most of the kind of things you mention. This legal obligation does not prevent him from running fishy advertising, skirting the legal gray areas, lobbying for changes in the law that would be beneficial to the firm and detrimental to the competitors etc. In fact, his fiduciary duty to the shareholders obliges him to do all these things unless the possible PR damage would be too great to justify them. All this is common knowledge.
Svigor writes:

Yan Shen loves the "not a zero sum game" thing. Similarly, if I'm making a deal with someone, and I run the "not a zero sum game" con and he lets me use that to justify a deal where I make $10k and he makes $5 even though we've invested equally, I'm loving the "not a zero sum game" thing, too.

"Not a zero sum game" is an extremely low bar for gauging success in negotiations.

Jeff writes:

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John P. Galt writes:

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Yan Shen writes:

Bryan, if you'll allow me to offer up a philosophy in contrast to both your own and that of Steve Sailer's, which I call cognitive elitism...

Cognitive elitism is the recognition that cognitive ability/IQ/whatever you want to call it, really plays a very important role in determining outcomes, both on an individual and a national level. In today's highly competitive global economy, high quality immigration, as practiced by countries like Singapore or Hong Kong, is an important component of being able to stay ahead of one's peers.

Thus, cognitive elitism is in contrast to both rabid ethno-patriotism and rabid "let's open up the borders to anyone who wants to come over"ism, in that it recognizes the important fact that globalization isn't necessarily a zero-sum game, but also recognizes that only immigration of a certain kind and in certain numbers is beneficial.

Bryan, sometimes I think to myself that if only a Lee Kuan Yew-type figure were in charge of public policy in this country, a lot of the madness that passes for public discourse these days would soon come to an end...

William Boot writes:

@William Thacker and quite a few others

a. You have some serious cognitive dissonance going. It is impossible to maintain both that people can, do and should own their homes and property but that the citizens of a nation do not collectively own it. It's defensible to say that all property is wrong but what you're saying is not.

b. Letting people in is not just letting them voluntarily interact with other consenting adults who offer them work.

It is giving them the power to help control me through the vote.

It is agreeing to pay for their kids in school and for the medicine they cannot afford and to supplement their income for all eternity.

It is agreeing to let my kids (and their kids for eternity) get less attention in school because all resources have to go to helping the lowest achievers.

It is letting people change my culture and spread their culture, which has been a colossal failure, to my country and have it infect the weak-minded and the young here.

It is impoverishing low-skilled natives and making it impossible for anyone who does not have a college degree to make a decent living.

If you want to say that free human movement among countries is a moral right that trumps the costs it inflicts, fine. That's an argument.

But to pretend that there are not huge costs for natives is just absurd. It's also absurd to pretend that it's obvious that the benefits to the winners outweigh the costs to the loser. Immigrants do not pay the costs they inflict on natives so they don't take them into account when they move.


C. All of this is pointless. No one ever decided this on logic. It's a pure emotional issue.

People who feel their families will suffer seriously from unskilled immigration oppose it.

People like Bryan, who don't think that they will suffer from any of the negative effects of immigration will support it because it allows them to think of themselves as good moral people while inflicting the costs of their beliefs on others.

Very few of you support the rights of immigrants to come at will because of your moral beliefs. You support it because you feel it won't hurt you.

I'd bet that most of you will find out you are wrong, generally after some incident that affects your kids. Thinking about that provides me with much consolation.

Ten minute warning:

I will be closing comments temporarily in this thread in 10 minutes. Comments will re-open tomorrow morning.

Any comments that have been submitted by the 10-minute point will be handled tonight. No comments will be left in the spam folder tonight. However, if you receive an email message and do not respond promptly, I won't get to it till tomorrow morning.

We appreciate those of you who have submitted polite, thoughtful, and occasionally light-hearted comments. I have to admit, though, my sense of humor has worn a little thin, which is why I have to kick it in for the night. I look forward to the resumption of thoughtful comments tomorrow.

Svigor writes:

Bryan, if you'll allow me to offer up a philosophy in contrast to both your own and that of Steve Sailer's, which I call cognitive elitism...

Cognitive elitism is the recognition that cognitive ability/IQ/whatever you want to call it, really plays a very important role in determining outcomes, both on an individual and a national level.

Bryan, if you'll allow me to offer up a competing definition of "cognitive elitism": the argument that white Americans should do what "cognitively elite" populations tell them to, and never, ever do what "cognitively elite" populations actually do.

Never pursue the golden rule; ignore how the other fellow treats you, and always treat him well. Reciprocity is crazy. The Chinese should be allowed to keep China Chinese, and turn America Chinese, too. The Saudis should be allowed to keep Arabia Arab, and turn America Arab, too. And so on and so forth with the Indians, the Mexicans, etc.

The idea that Americans should try to get the best of any deal with the Chinese is economically illiterate; it's not a zero sum game, after all. If China gets a pile of gold and we get a pile of fertilizer, well, hey, we're up one pile of fertilizer!

The idea that America should limit population exchange with China to parity (after accounting for how much less valuable Chinese citizenship is than American citizenship) is of course, economicaly illiterate. Reciprocity is crazy talk.

TL;DR version: Never, ever do what smart people do. That's dumb. Do what they tell you to do.

In today's highly competitive global economy

China, Israel, and India are not pursuing a "cognitively elite" immigration policy. The populations of those countries are obviously "cognitively elite," but they don't pursue "cognitive elitism." That's what makes "cognitive elitism" so clever; it's for Americans, not "cognitively elite" populations.

high quality immigration, as practiced by countries like Singapore or Hong Kong, is an important component of being able to stay ahead of one's peers.

Because a massive, continent-spanning country has so much in common with a city in terms of immigration policy.

Bryan, sometimes I think to myself that if only a Lee Kuan Yew-type figure were in charge of public policy in this country, a lot of the madness that passes for public discourse these days would soon come to an end...

I wholeheartedly agree with Yan Shen about one thing: I'd much prefer an LKY immigration policy to the disaster we have now. But I don't consider replacing a major disaster with a minor one to be the optimal course.

James writes:

Steve Sailor:

You see open borders advocacy as analogous to suggesting YOU not restrict who enters YOUR home no matter how much trouble they might bring. Open borders advocates think your position is analogous to YOU wanting to restrict someone else from entering MY house, even if I invited the person.

Here's an idea: instead of restating what you believe with ever more analogies, just state your actual argument premise by premise and step by step. On what basis do you "believe Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners?"

Robert writes:

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FredR writes:

'On what basis do you "believe Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners?"'

Yeah this is definitely some kind of abstruse and bizarre moral doctrine that needs to be spelled out in painstaking detail before it should even be considered.

Vipul Naik writes:

Steve Z,

Sorry for the delayed response. And my apologies for misinterpreting your comment, and thanks for clarifying it.

I think the act/omission distinction, although not the point you were making, still underlies what you classify as bad habits or unfairness. So it is relevant albeit more indirectly. I will probably respond more in an Open Borders blog post some time.

I will be processing all the global IQ bleg responses once the comments are closed for that entry. Thanks for taking the time to share your thoughts on the issue.

AMac writes:

I'm the commenter who followed Bryan Caplan's absolutist Open Borders ideology to its logical conclusion, pointing out that United States citizens have no grounds for excluding 400 million poverty-stricken Indians from settling in this country. Also per Caplan, I labelled anybody who dissents from this libertarian orthodoxy as a moral monster (11/8/12 3:50pm).

Thanks to James Bowery and Mike for their responses.

It's often constructive when folks with differing perspectives can achieve common ground on some contentious issue. I'm not so sure about the present instance, though.

American progressives got this ball rolling with the 1965 Immigration Reform Act. They judged -- correctly -- that culture and self-interest would dispose most new residents towards their pro-statist views. Clear-eyed country-club Republicans saw the benefits to themselves and their businesses of an expanded supply of pliant, low-cost stoop labor.

The U.S. elites are well along the way to Electing A New People, retiring the visions of Franklin and Jefferson in favor of Caciquismo. The hacienda model of politics is indeed appealing -- as long as you and your friends get to play the role of dueño. Or vanguard of the proletariat, if you wish.

Fundamentalist libertarians -- helping the process along.

Okkes writes:

"If allowing a peaceful worker to accept a job offer from a peaceful employer isn't a fundamental moral obligation, what is?"

If that acceptance entails the transfer of valuable political power and valuable common resources (I.e. those bestowed by the welfare state as well as core government functions), those providing the resources in the transfer (and especially the political power) should be entitled to make the call on what constitutes a transfer of your property.

In addition to this, there are of course the other potential external effects, but those are secondary.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

James,

I can't speak for Steve Sailer, but I do think that I can defend the concept of controlled borders without resorting to analogies. This is lightly edited from a comment I posted to a prior blog entry from Dr. Caplan:

I agree that the leap from housing unit to national borders leaves a few dots untouched. However if there is an agreement that the nation state, which requires regulation of borders, should be subject to a reasonableness test, then I'm a happy camper.

1. Nation states defend national cultures.

2. Culture is the institution whereby the benefits of learning are passed down to generations. These learnings are often very expensive. Europeans don't have to fight religious wars anymore, because they remember when they did. Americans don't have to fight their civil war.

3. Medicine, science, law, etc. all amount to inheritances delivered via culture.

4. National cultures are not all alike. Some are fabulously successful, others dismal failures. I've read that the border between Haiti and the Dominican Republic is visible from the air because DR side consists of a robust forest while the Haitian side is a deforested wasteland. Forget the US, shall the people of the DR be denied the right to protect whatever cultural elements they enjoy that makes their country so much better a place to live? [I've also read that the border is not so distinct. Doesn't diminish the point.]

5. If your open the borders to all comers you break the nation state, at least if you maintain a pluralist society and allow the newcomers full participation in that society.

6. If you break the nation state you disenherit vast numbers of people from successful cultural legacies. Think about rule of law, which is fundamental to Western democracies and far from universal.

7. The very fact that respect for the nation state is nearly universal, and paid for in blood and treasure many times over for hundreds of years, is itself a strong argument that the burden of proof lies with its critics.

Ken


Porter writes:

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MikeP writes:

The very fact that respect for the nation state is nearly universal, and paid for in blood and treasure many times over for hundreds of years, is itself a strong argument that the burden of proof lies with its critics.

The very fact that the nation state survived for the vast majority of those hundreds of years with open borders is a strong argument that the burden of proof lies with open borders' critics.

Restrictionist immigration policy is a product of Progressive Era reconstitution of government powers. The fact that it exists is hardly an argument that it should. Do you apply the same argument to universal health insurance?

Leon Haller writes:

Put aside the disaster of immigration in the West today, about which literally nothing good can be said -unless you want to live in Mexico, if American, or under sharia, if European. I could spend hundreds of pages outlining the completely one-sidedly negative policy of immigration today, though I will only make one point here: California. My home state. Once Reagan Country, today the most leftist (and socialist and bankrupt) place in USA. What has changed? many factors - but all are utterly dwarfed by one fact: mass immigration of nonwhites.

Most nonwhites are leftist. Some aren't, but then some Orientals are taller than some blacks - but as a general rule, blacks are bigger than Chinese. Import blacks, the median height goes up; bring in Chinese, it goes down. Bring in nonwhite voters (actually, the whole world is leftist, except portions of white America - so perhaps I should just say "random foreigners"), liberal votes go up. Why do neoliberals and libertarians REFUSE to accept this plain fact of electoral demographics?

But Caplan writes in a moral vein. Of course, we owe greater obligations to fellow citizens than to foreigners - and yes, to members of our own race than to other races. Who says that means we owe NO obligations to others? We always owe the basic obligation of non-aggression. BUT THAT IS IT. It is not my responsibility to feed or clothe other countries, nor is it my responsibility to enable others to enjoy the blessings of the USA - which my ancestors built, and, by definition, the foreigners' did not. Nor is it my responsibility to promote minority education or uplift.

What Caplan refuses to realize (one suspects because his own ancestry in the USA is not very deep) is that earlier generations of Americans did the hard work of founding and building the USA. Is it pious simply to make a hash of the present - to hand over our patrimony to those unlike ourselves, who will not carry on the civilization and culture we inherited? Of course not- it is the very summit of disrespect!

Legal immigration is impious, immoral, socially destructive of community, ecologically damaging, economically deleterious, except for narrow special interests, and politically disastrous for the causes of liberty and prosperity and finally American cultural and national survival. We must END ALL IMMIGRATION.

Lastly,

“If you believe that patriotism has a moral basis, if you believe that we have special responsibilities for the welfare of our fellow citizens, then you must accept the third category of obligation - obligations of solidarity or membership that can’t be reduced to an act of consent. . .

With belonging comes responsibility. You can’t really take pride in your country and its past if you’re unwilling to acknowledge any responsibility for carrying its story into the present, and discharging the moral burdens that may come with it.” Michael Sandel (a leftist gets something right!)

[comment edited with permission of commenter--Econlib Ed.]

James writes:

Kenneth,

I appreciate your honest response but that doesn't address the question I asked. See the quoted portion of my earlier comment to which I think you are responding.

Having said that, your argument doesn't even follow. To justify a conclusion about kittens, you need a premise about kittens, no? I think you want to justify a conclusion like "Deadly force should be used to ..." but I find no premise referencing violence.

FredR,

If citizenists want others to embrace their position, it would serve them well to present their reasons for holding it.

Mary writes:

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Randall Burns writes:

"I'd ask, "If allowing a peaceful worker to accept a job offer from a peaceful employer isn't a fundamental moral obligation, what is?" And I'd listen carefully and respectfully to his reply."

Citizenship in a country is a form of property similar to say ownership of a house in a condominium. Any condo complex has rules around things like how many guests you can have in your share of the condo. Likewise EVERY country in the world carefully regulates immigration and visits on the part of foreigners.

US wages are often several times those of countries from which the US draws immigrants. If we opened borders, wages would in times equalize-and most of the resulting increase in value would trickle up into the hands of property owners unless it was taxed away-that is just basic classical economics dating to folks like Mill and Ricardo.

What moral obligations do citizens have to allow holders of property under their political authority to realize all potential value in their property?

International human movement has all kinds of serious ramifications-including major public health consequences-it is utterly reasonable that independent countries can and do regulate travel and immigration.

Also, not all migrants are peaceful or free of fraud or other negative externalities. 911 is a major example of non-peaceful visitors. The fact that Mexico has limited de facto extradition practices means that country acts a haven for various kinds of criminal organizations that operate in the US. Similarly we see other countries doing the same thing.

US citizenship has clear economic value. Why should corporate shareholders be allowed to use access to US citizenship as a corporate perk obtained with little cost other than buying politicians? Why should corporations be able to pass any negative costs created by immigration onto citizens?

"However, if a citizenist recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens, I can only dismiss him as a monster."
That is putting words in Steve's mouth. He NEVER said there was NO obligation to non-citizens-just not as much as there is to citizens.

Ralph Nader once suggested every corporate board meeting start with the pledge of allegiance. Maybe that should apply to business school classes also.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

James,

I should have connected the dots better. Deadly force is justifiable to preserve a priceless cultural legacy purchased by our ancestors at great cost of lives and treasure. We recognize others' right to exert corresponding deadly force against us for the same reason.

Hope this helps.

Ken

FredR writes:

Curt Doolittle at Capitalismv3 has written a fair amount from a libertarian perspective about how cultural norms should be considered a form of property, with all the rights that that entails: http://www.capitalismv3.com/2011/08/13/emotions-are-universally-a-reaction-to-changes-property-an-austrian-criticism-of-immigration/

Paul writes:

I must say that I think that there is a basic stupidity in Caplan's assumption that logic should trump emotion. Many primates, like humans, live in tribes or social groupings, and strongly favor the members of their own tribe. Arguing that people should no longer feel the emotions that they do feel, and inescapably must feel because their ancestors were human and they are human too, is weak sauce and misanthropic to boot. In my mind it is akin to condemning any feelings of sexual desire as lustful and sinful.

Nietzsche thought it was possible for human beings to transcend their "herd" instincts, but that is was exceedingly rare. He, like Aristotle, likened them to gods and called them philosophers. I don't know what sense it makes to expect god-like qualities from the masses. It is almost as if Caplan has all the sense of a priest who thinks that everyone should (and could successfully) imitate Christ.

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

Mike P:


The very fact that the nation state survived for the vast majority of those hundreds of years with open borders is a strong argument that the burden of proof lies with open borders' critics.

Fair enough. Let me try to bear the burden.

Historically open borders have not created polyglot nations. American society, for example, was until very recently dominated by an amalgam of European peoples who were universally Christian or Jewish and bent willingly to the English language and to Anglo-American cultural and legal traditions. No foreign language ballots. No honor killings.

I expect that border controls were put into place in nation states around the world when improved communication made it possible for open borders to threaten this cultural hegemony. We now see what happens as these controls are weakenened. The citizens of successful nation states are struggling mightily with this issue: can their rich cultural legacy survive the arrival of great numbers of outsiders who haven't experienced the religious, economic, political, and intellectual history that made this legacy possible?

So I believe that your premise is wrong. There has never been an era in which modern low-cost communication and successful nation states with truly open borders have long coexisted. And now that weak - but not open - borders are common, the results are not good.


Restrictionist immigration policy is a product of Progressive Era reconstitution of government powers. The fact that it exists is hardly an argument that it should. Do you apply the same argument to universal health insurance?

I agree that the existence of border controls is not itself an argument for them. (And notice that I am arguing in favor of regulated borders and against open borders as a concept, not for this or that level of regulated immigration.) I've done my best to make an argument that regulating the borders of a nation state can be hugely beneficial to its citizens. Certainly it is to citizens of my own country, the US.

The fact that universal health care, and the socialist project more broadly, enjoys wide acceptance is a legitimate argument in its favor. However, whether it will survive in the long run remains an unsettled question, as hinted at by the European financial crisis. I'm certainly skeptical. Ironically, socialism largely depends on the social cohesion that open borders act against. Absent strong social stigmas against gaming the system, society tends to fragment into distinct classes of "takers," who overconsume the commons, and "makers" who become disillusioned and ultimately look for ways out of the system.

Ken

AMac writes:

@Paul, @Kenneth A. Regas --

The biologist E.O. Wilson famously quipped about Marxism,

Wonderful theory, wrong species.
Wilson considered it better suited to social ants than to humans.

A similar sentiment comes to mind with respect to the -ism under consideration in this thread. Though I haven't figured out what its reference species would be...

James writes:

Kenneth,

Ok, but that's an argument for something other than regulated borders. If you honestly believe that deadly force is justified for the preservation of culture, then there are plenty of people to round up and kill and that group has far less than 100% overlap with the group of people that would enter the US if they could.

James writes:

The more I read the comments here, the more I think it's actually a good thing that closed borders advocates are resorting to relativistic notions like "citizenism." Perhaps soon they will admit that it's impossible to make a case for immigration restrictions without doing some of the following:

1. arguing for immigration controls from premises which, if true, would call for policies that you'd opose

2. making cost-benefit arguments which ignore or discount the welfare of those who would benefit from open borders

3. making cost-benefit arguments that rely on cost forecasts not generated via reproducible methods.

Svigor writes:

Liberaltarianism/open borders is a prescription for national suicide. Which is why only countries infected with suicidal memes flirt with open borders.

Liberaltarians respond by obviating the idea of nations. Brilliant response, sure to win over the masses.

Evan writes:

@Anthony

We respect the person who gives their money to the poor because they are sacrificing for others. Bryan doesn't think there'd be a sacrifice for him because he thinks the effects of open borders would be positive for Americans overall, and certainly for Americans like him.

A person who makes big sacrifices to help others definitely deserves more admiration than one who helps others without making serious sacrifices. However, a person who helps others without making big sacrifices is far, far better than someone who doesn't help others at all. So Bryan is still being highly moral, even if he is less moral than someone who is making more serious sacrifices.

Besides, Bryan is making some sacrifices. He's spending a huge amount of his personal time advocating open-borders policies instead of playing videogames or looking at porn. He's putting his views out there and enduring attacks from opponents, some of who can be rather mean-spirited (not you, you're very civil). Again, these aren't giant sacrifices, but as I said before, a person who tries to help other people and makes only small sacrifices is still more admirable than someone who doesn't try at all.

@Paul

I must say that I think that there is a basic stupidity in Caplan's assumption that logic should trump emotion...In my mind it is akin to condemning any feelings of sexual desire as lustful and sinful.

Bryan isn't demanding we reject our emotions. He is simply asking us to use logic to alter the targets of those emotions so that we behave more ethically.

To use your sexual desire example: imagine I had the hots for a serial killer, and didn't turn her in because of that. I think we can both agree that that is a bad thing. But it's not because sexual desire is bad, it's because targeting your sexual desire at a serial killer is bad. Similarly, group love isn't bad, but targeting it at a group smaller than "all humanity" often makes you do bad things.

@Svigor

I do. How do I know what USAid does with their money?

Fine. Replace it with a charity that you do think is effective. It doesn't change the argument at all.

@FredR

Yeah this is definitely some kind of abstruse and bizarre moral doctrine that needs to be spelled out in painstaking detail before it should even be considered.

I think you were being sarcastic, but I actually think your statement, taken literally, is quite correct. Rejecting partiality and treating everyone equally is a foundation of nearly ever ethical system, and I'm not just talking about newer ones like libertarianism. Christianity, and most other major world religions, regard people as being of equal moral worth in most respects. Even Hinduism is forced to justify the caste system's inegalitarian nature by claiming being in a low caste is punishment for sinning in a past life.

It seems to me that the "default" moral belief for human beings is that everyone has equal moral rights. Partiality is caused by human weakness. It seems to me like citizenism is an attempt to rationalize moral weakness instead of overcoming it.

Dan writes:

People want borders and forge them at extraordinary expense if they aren't provided as a public good.

For instance, New York City, Chicago, Boston and DC, fiercely left-wing all, are intensively separated by walls and barriers, with certain groups paying extremely large amounts of money each for the privilege of living separated out from the 'bad element.'

Evan writes:

@Dan

People want borders and forge them at extraordinary expense if they aren't provided as a public good.

Doesn't that support Bryan's thesis? If the free market can provide borders, why have the government do it? The free market is much more precise than the government. It provides buyers with the security they want, without violating the fundamental human rights of the people who aren't buying.

Bryan isn't opposing people's desire to sequester themselves. What he's opposing is their belief that it's morally acceptable to violate rights of millions of people to contract for work and to buy and rent land. What he's opposing is people's belief that they can still call themselves "good persons" after supporting policies that unnecessarily impoverish millions.

@FredR

Curt Doolittle at Capitalismv3 has written a fair amount from a libertarian perspective about how cultural norms should be considered a form of property, with all the rights that that entails

All that proves is that if you torture the definition of the word "property" enough you can define anything you want as property, and define any action you wish to take, however deplorable, as "defending your property rights."

In any case, this comparison breaks down as soon as you apply it to cultural norms that all civilized people recognize as "bad." For instance, you could easily argue from this position that your are violating people's property rights by stopping genital mutilation, sati, segregation, slavery, or any other horrible norm. The only choices this presents you with are:
1) Reject the idea that social norms are property.
2) Accept that social norms are property, and then recognize that sometimes it's totally okay to violate people's property rights for the greater good.

And it's a moot point in any case, because increasing immigration levels will not destroy any really important social norms. There may be a few weird exceptions, like Israel, but most places that increase immigration would just end up with an improved economy and a new subpopulation with a few harmless quirks.

James_G writes:
The more I read the comments here, the more I think it's actually a good thing that closed borders advocates are resorting to relativistic notions like "citizenism." Perhaps soon they will admit that it's impossible to make a case for immigration restrictions without doing some of the following:

1. arguing for immigration controls from premises which, if true, would call for policies that you'd oppose

2. making cost-benefit arguments which ignore or discount the welfare of those who would benefit from open borders

3. making cost-benefit arguments that rely on cost forecasts not generated via reproducible methods.

#3 is a fully general counterargument. All important decisions, taken rationally, involve prominent beliefs that are not subject to the scientific method.

One can't perform controlled, reproducible experiments on "the effects of opening the US border". Therefore, deductive reasoning is necessary in estimating the costs (and benefits!) of this policy.

[Nick changed from James to James_G for clarity in the thread, per the commenter.--Econlib Ed.]

James writes:

I did not resond to my own comment. Perhaps someone was intending to address me?

But I detect a straw man here: Actual deductive reasoning is reproducible. Reproducability does not require a controlled exeriment and never has.

If the argument against open borders is based on a cost-benefit test, then there must be some level of harm from immigration at which open borders goes from tolerable to unacceptable. If there is a deductive argument to show that the actual cost exceeds this point, opponents of open borders should just present it. Is it too much to just show your work?

tommy writes:

All of this libertarian talk about freeing the Brains to do "their work" centers around the idea that there is a particular form of work that best suits the Brains when, in fact, the Brains are better at doing practically any form of work. I think it was Gottfredson who found that even truck drivers perform better up to something like an IQ of 120. There seems to be this unstated idea that we should be striving toward a society of cognitive floors rather than ceilings in every job. But is it really for the best if we have the least intelligent factory workers, the least intelligent cashiers, the least intelligent truck drivers, etc. so that a society is likely to have, in comparison to other countries and over the long run, the least intelligent economics professors? I'm going to guess that the gains in comparative advantage are largely lost to the whole of society when you have the least efficient workforce and least competent intellectual class you can possibly assemble.

Lets know Caplan's proposal for what it really is: a plea for job security for his heirs at the expense of the entire society.

tommy writes:

Why won't libertarians just stop with "practical benefits" claims like the idea that this help our country as a whole and just admit that the fate of the country as a whole is never a concern for them when it conflicts with the libertarian notions like the unlimited right to contract for work?

If it were proven tomorrow to the satisfaction of everyone that unlimited immigration would be an economic disaster in that it would instantly render the United States a bleak Third World country, I haven't seen any evidence from the pro-immigration crowd in the comments that this would change their thinking one iota. I havent' seen any evidence they'd change their opinion on the subject even if the result of that Third World invasion was a state that was far less economically free than the one we know today. The rest of us aren't that interested in pursuing ideological goals to the point of suicide. We're a bit more pragmatic than to want to pursue policies solely on the basis of ideological moralizing and assume-we-had-a-can-opener-and-we-all-lived-in-the-land-of-Econspergia-style thought experimentation.

James_G writes:
I did not respond to my own comment. Perhaps someone was intending to address me?

But I detect a straw man here: Actual deductive reasoning is reproducible. Reproducibility does not require a controlled experiment and never has.

If the argument against open borders is based on a cost-benefit test, then there must be some level of harm from immigration at which open borders goes from tolerable to unacceptable. If there is a deductive argument to show that the actual cost exceeds this point, opponents of open borders should just present it. Is it too much to just show your work?

I commented above (also as "James"), explaining deductively why I oppose open borders (or more importantly, why I think Caplan and his acolytes should stop promoting this idea).

Mass immigration harms the prospects for science and civilisation in numerous ways. Caplan et al underestimate the scope of "political externalities" (and the term itself is understated). Consider the fate of post-colonial Africa, described by Dalrymple:

I expected to find on my arrival [in Rhodesia], therefore, a country in crisis and decay. Instead, I found a country that was, to all appearances, thriving: its roads were well maintained, its transport system functioning, its towns and cities clean and manifesting a municipal pride long gone from England. There were no electricity cuts or shortages of basic food commodities. The large hospital in which I was to work, while stark and somewhat lacking in comforts, was extremely clean and ran with exemplary efficiency. The staff, mostly black except for its most senior members, had a vibrant esprit de corps, and the hospital, as I discovered, had a reputation for miles around for the best of medical care. The rural poor would make immense and touching efforts to reach it: they arrived covered in the dust of their long journeys. The African nationalist leader and foe of the government, Joshua Nkomo, was a patient there and trusted the care implicitly: for medical ethics transcended all political antagonisms.

The surgeon for whom I worked, who came from England, was the best I have ever known and a man of exemplary character. Devoting his enormous technical accomplishment to the humblest of patients, he seemed not only capable of every surgical procedure, but he was a brilliant diagnostician, his clinical intuition honed by a relative lack of high-tech aids: so much so that others in the hospital regarded him as the final court of appeal. I never knew him to be mistaken, though like every other doctor he must have made errors in his time. He saved the lives of hundreds every year and inspired the most absolute trust and confidence in his patients. He never panicked, even in the direst emergency; and he knew what to do when a man had been half eaten by a crocodile or mauled by a leopard, when a child had been bitten in the leg by a puff adder, or when a man appeared with a spear driven through his skull. When called in the early hours of the morning, as he frequently was, he was as even-tempered as if attending a social event. Greater love hath no man. . . .

He was not a missionary, however; he was infused by nothing resembling a religious spirit, only by a profound medical ethic and an enthusiasm for his art and science. He wanted a varied and interesting surgical practice, and he wanted to save human life; and the Rhodesia of the time offered him ideal conditions for using his skills to maximum benefit (even the best of surgeons relies on a well-organized hospital to achieve results). Within a short time of the political handover in 1980, however, he returned to England—not because of any racial feeling or political antagonism but simply because the swift degeneration of standards in the hospital made the high-level practice of surgery impossible. The institution that had seemed to me on my arrival to be so solid and well founded fell apart in the historical twinkling of an eye. [...]

Just as African doctors were perfectly equal to their medical tasks, technically speaking, so the degeneration of colonial villas had nothing to do with the intellectual inability of Africans to maintain them. Rather, the fortunate inheritor of such a villa was soon overwhelmed by relatives and others who had a social claim upon him. They brought even their goats with them; and one goat can undo in an afternoon what it has taken decades to establish.

It is easy to see why a civil service, controlled and manned in its upper reaches by whites, could remain efficient and uncorrupt but could not long do so when manned by Africans who were supposed to follow the same rules and procedures. The same is true, of course, for every other administrative activity, public or private. The thick network of social obligations explains why, while it would have been out of the question to bribe most Rhodesian bureaucrats, yet in only a few years it would have been out of the question not to try to bribe most Zimbabwean ones, whose relatives would have condemned them for failing to obtain on their behalf all the advantages their official opportunities might provide. Thus do the very same tasks in the very same offices carried out by people of different cultural and social backgrounds result in very different outcomes.

In the case of Rhodesia/Zimbabwe, then, the "political externalities" of a social shift transcended voting behaviour. The Africans weren't equipped to be law-abiding bureaucrats and citizens—the kind of thing that Americans take for granted, and scarcely consider to be "political".

Regarding Mexicans: the greater problem isn't that they vote for the Democratic party—after all, party politics is largely a dignified (not efficient) part of the constitution—but that their presence in America makes real political change, at some point in the future, more difficult. Angry white people are the libertarian constituency.

The biggest problem is that most humans are fundamentally racist and tribalist. The more ethnic diversity, the more democracy turns into a rent-seeking enterprise. Caplan himself admits that racial diversity reduces social trust. This is allegedly a good thing, because it reduces voter-support for paying taxes towards the welfare state. One problem with this view is that plenty of low-trust citizens are quite happy to take money from others; another is that the permanent bureaucracy is only loosely constrained by changes in the elective part of government; and voters are generally incompetent to further their interests via the ballot box.

But above all, loss of social trust is a lot more harmful, and irretrievable, than welfare statism. Relatively benign institutions and governance don't build and sustain themselves; the less social trust, the less I expect anyone to invest their time altruistically in making the country work.

The short-term benefits to immigrants (or anyone else) of any particular government policy or decision scarcely factors in my utilitarian calculus, because I take the prospect of the singularity seriously. This is the font of the supermajority of humanity's potential hedons. I only want USG and its satellites to be a breeding ground for progress in AI science, eugenics, human cooperation and all of the other theory that will be necessary in order to pull off a positive singularity. Therefore, relative to the expected harm to urgent human progress I perceive approximately zero expected utilitarian benefit from increased immigration of peasants. (A few more very high-quality immigrants might not go amiss.)

AMac writes:

Evan wrote (11/11/12, 5:17am) --

increasing immigration levels will not destroy any really important social norms. There may be a few weird exceptions, like Israel, but most places that increase immigration would just end up with an improved economy and a new subpopulation with a few harmless quirks.
To Caplan, James, Evan, and the many other fans of Open Borders in this thread, this argument's premises must seem ordinary and its conclusions foreordained.

Other U.S. citizens -- myself among them -- have already experienced the first forty-plus years of the reckless experiment that Evan describes. The early results are in, and they are bad -- as predicted. The trends are for accelerating deterioration -- again, as predicted.

Perhaps the key concept here is the Leninist "Who? Whom?" By "results are bad," I mean bad for American citizens and their descendants. Judging by the arguments in this thread, this is not a constituency towards which Open Borders advocates have any particular concern, or loyalty. For the theoreticians and logicians of the Libertarian movement, the ongoing process of "Electing a new people" hardly merits a shrug.

Libertarians, please continue your advocacy. The best outcome is for citizens and voters to understand your talking points, and appreciate their implications.

joe writes:

I had better leave my front door open to anyone who wants to move in. To do otherwise would be monstrous.

Paul writes:

@evan

See AMac's quotation of E.O. Wilson above. I believe that many of the arguments put forth by libertarians are theological, i.e. they have no more practical import than determining how many angels can dance on the head of a pin.

Your response to Dan about how the market provides borders in the absence of government intervention might be incredibly dry humor. If so, cheers.

However, if not (and I suspect not), I think that your argument illustrates the theological nature of libertarian thought. Just think of the history of Europe. When the government does not provide the borders that various people want, they will provide those borders themselves. They do that through forming their own militias, government, and through genocide.

That is why stable borders, and a polity that wants to continue to exist as one polity, is such a precious thing. The alternative is most often violence. It may seem paradoxical that the same desire, the desire of one group of people to have their own country/government is the cause of both peace and war. But so long as that desire continues to exist (and I think any reasonable observer believes that it will continue to exist into the foreseeable future), then that desire must be accommodated. I think that Caplan knows this, and is just pushing his interlocutors into attempting to find a reasonable argument to support just how much it must be accommodated. But if so, he is playing Socrates; at the end of the debate, neither side will really have arrived at knowledge.

diana writes:

"Try changing "country" to "race". "

No. We are talking about countries, not races.

Changing terms is a distortion of the argument. I refuse to engage in your games.

Leon Haller writes:

[Comment removed for policy violation.--Econlib Ed.]

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