Bryan Caplan  

Sailer on Fundamental Moral Obligations

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Immigration, Trespassing, and ... Intermediate Hypothetical Bleg...
I'm pleased to see Steve Sailer engaging my 3 AM Dorm Room hypotheticals (here and here):
"Biased in favor of" is hardly the same as "recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens" and does not imply Poisoning Children. I also do not, for example, to use one of your 3 AM in the Dorm Room hypotheticals from another post, believe America should invade Canada and enslave Canadians.
I am genuinely glad to hear this.  Steve is of course correct that "biased in favor of" does not mean "recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens."  At the same time, however, I am hardly crazy to wonder about Steve's true position.

Steve devotes most of his intellectual energy to making policy more biased in favor of citizens.  He devotes almost no energy to explaining when that bias would, in his eyes, be sufficient or excessive.  Given the many horrors committed by groups explicitly committed to in-group favoritism, he should preemptively affirm our moral obligations to out-groups instead of leaving the issue to listeners' imaginations.

Now that moral obligations to out-groups are on the table, however, I'd appreciate more details.  Steve, would you please name a few examples of citizenist policies that you think go slightly beyond the limits of our moral obligations to outsiders?  A few examples of such policies that you think are just barely within those limits?  Inquiring minds want to know.

P.S. If you think my trespassing argument is a straw man, Steve embraces it to the letter:
My adolescent child does not have a fundamental right to make a job offer to a wino to move into our house to do my child's chores for him in return for half of his allowance. Nor does the wino then have the right to invite his brother to move in to our house, nor the wino's brother to invite his daughter and her kids in, nor the wino's brother's daughter's daughter's husband and his kids from a previous marriage, etc etc.
This analogy makes perfect sense if (a) the government is the true owner of what I incorrectly call "my" house, and (b) I merely reside there with the government's permission.  Otherwise, the analogy makes no sense at all.



COMMENTS (53 to date)
Mike Hammock writes:

This reminds me so much of David Friedman's back-and-forth with Huben and Andreas that I'm experiencing overwhelming deja vu.

Jeff writes:

Perhaps we all just need a refresher:

Sovereignty is the quality of having supreme, independent authority over a geographic area, such as a territory.[1] It can be found in a power to rule and make law that rests on a political fact for which no pure legal definition can be provided.
For centuries past, the idea that a state could be sovereign was always connected to its ability to guarantee the best interests of its own citizens. Thus, if a state could not act in the best interests of its own citizens, it could not be thought of as a “sovereign” state.[2]

The concept of sovereignty has been discussed throughout history, from the time of the Romans through to the present day. It has changed in its definition, concept, and application throughout, especially during the Age of Enlightenment. The current notion of state sovereignty contains four aspects, or different ways of understanding the term:

Domestic sovereignty - actual control over a state exercised by an authority organized within this state,[3]

Interdependence sovereignty - actual control of movement across state's borders, assuming the borders exist,[3]

International legal sovereignty - formal recognition by other sovereign states,[3]

Westphalian sovereignty - lack of other authority over state than the domestic authority (examples of such other authorities could be a non-domestic church, a non-domestic political organization, or any other external agent).[3]

Often, these four aspects all appear together, but this is not necessarily the case – they are not affected by one another, and there are historical examples of states that were non-sovereign in one aspect while at the same time being sovereign in another of these aspects.[3]

For more discussion about the nature of those pesky little varmints we call governments, read the rest:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sovereignty

Steve Z writes:

In Bryan Caplan's world, one either owns alloidal title to something, or no title at all. But that's not how property rights function in the world we live in. I don't think more needs to be said about this line of posts.

Matt writes:

I have to agree with Steve Z.

Bryan, where do you think property rights come from? Rights aren't god given they are people agreed upon, and exist based on custom, and if you are lucky enough a strong state to enforce them with force. But thinking in some real way that you own a piece of land, that it belongs to you, is really odd. Property has no value, like money, it exists because we all say it does. If everyone says differently tomorrow, well good-luck bryan. Seriously you have some really odd conception of property rights that is absurd on its face

Philo writes:

@ Matt:

“Rights aren't god given they are people agreed upon, and exist based on custom . . . .” Is that all you think there is to rights: custom, the conventional agreement of (enough of the right kinds of) people? What about the Enlightenment “Rights of Man”—perhaps not “God-given,” but at least having an objective basis independent of their recognition by any particular group of people?

Steve Z writes:

Correction: I meant to write "allodial" not "alloidal." My lexicon of feudal property terms seems to be gathering dust.

Philo: To the extent that Bryan is asserting that there is a right to freely immigrate that trumps the rights of property holders and citizens, this argument assumes the conclusion, because this premise is the precise conclusion he has been asserting.

MikeDC writes:

@Steve Z,

Actually I think it goes beyond a strictly alloidal title.

I'd like Bryan to address a slightly stronger strawman. Instead of the adolescent child inviting in the wino, suppose it's your wife, who's equal co-owner of the property.

One could dismiss the original example by saying that the child is both not an owner and not an adult citizen.

In the updated example, assume we're in a perfectly libertarian world in which there's no government. You can do whatever you like with your land. But as part of your marriage contract undersigned by your mutually agreed to private security enforcement and adjudication company, you and your wife are joint owners.

And there she is, your wife and the co-owner of your home, asking plaintively that you just give this smelly, wine-besotted hobo a chance. She tells you he'll earn his keep by making risotto. You hate risotto.

Well, what happens? You go to arbitration in libertarian paradise, and the arbiter decides... what? By Bryan's definition, what's being decided is "true" ownership. If the private mediator rules in favor of your wife, you either have to put up with the wino or leave. Or you get divorced and sell your house.

Who gets to exercise the right fully while the matter is being adjudicated (ie, does the homeless guy get to stay in the guest bedroom, or does he have to sleep out in the street until the matter is resolved)?

To carry the analogy back to immigration, one can't simply say "yes, but we're not talking about such a big imposition here" because we're talking about a rights based world. If I have a right to even the trivial benefits of my property, those right should be protected.

To put it differently, in our libertarian paradise, rights to do something, or not, are still subject to the rights of others. Perhaps physical property make things seem absolute and tangible, but in reality any society has to negotiate infringements.

Matt writes:
Philo writes: @ Matt:

“Rights aren't god given they are people agreed upon, and exist based on custom . . . .” Is that all you think there is to rights: custom, the conventional agreement of (enough of the right kinds of) people? What about the Enlightenment “Rights of Man”—perhaps not “God-given,” but at least having an objective basis independent of their recognition by any particular group of people?

How circular! "Rights of Man" in order for the rights of man to exist men must exist. Thus the existence of rights is dependent upon the existence of men. Numerical concepts on the other hand may exist independently of men. This is a big issue in philosophy.

Rights (morals) if they exists independently of people, what are they? What kind of mater makes them up? Where do they live? The answer is they don't.. I won't get into numbers, but the laws of physics won't stop working when humans cease to exist.

MikeP writes:

Shorter Matt: might makes right.

David R. Henderson writes:

@Matt,
You write:
Rights aren't god given they are people agreed upon, and exist based on custom, and if you are lucky enough a strong state to enforce them with force. But thinking in some real way that you own a piece of land, that it belongs to you, is really odd. Property has no value, like money, it exists because we all say it does. If everyone says differently tomorrow, well good-luck bryan.
Would you say that's true of your right to your body? Is it a right simply because people agree on it? If the government decided tomorrow that it, or I, for that matter, had a right to your body, would you disagree? I think you would but on what basis would you disagree? The government could argue that your alleged right is just "based on custom," couldn't it?

James writes:

No 3 am in the dorm hypothetical is needed. I think the relevant question for Sailer is "How big would the gains to immgrants need to be in order for you to favor open borders?"

If his argument rests on the idea that he exects immigrants to benefit from coming to the US but not enough to justify the losses he expects to befall current citizens, there must still be some level of benefit to prospective immigrants where Steve would call for open borders.

For background: see here.

Dan Hill writes:

To all the commenters arguing we have no rights except what our fellow ctizens grant us - so what you are saying is the Founding Fathers were full of it with their "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" and all that nonsense?

Matt writes:

David,

You are confusing weather or not the customs are good, with weather or not they are really just customs. Again rights only exist in the context of people. Should a rock sue the rain for weathering it? That is a non-sensical statement. I don't want to be hit by lighting, if only I can make the lightning listen.

Mike P: Might doesn't make right it makes reality.

The fact is that we have evolved moral intuitions, and that these make us a more successful species. When we question those intuitions we are making arguments about what would make us more successful, our flexibility is adaptive as well. That doesn't however imply that these rights or intuitions have any existence beyond that which is in our heads and the heads of others. This again doesn't imply that I'm not glad they exist in our head.

MikeDC writes:

@David R. Henderson and MikeP
I won't speak for Matt, but I hold the same view he's espousing, so my answer is that not that "Might makes right" but that "ongoing enforcement of agreement" makes right.

What do you mean by government? If "we" get together and decide today that we each have a right to our own bodies, and we will create mechanism to enforce that right, we're in essence both creating the right and establishing a government (as a mechanism to protect that right). It's a means to the end of furthering the voluntary agreement of its citizens.

The right exists only so long as it's agreed upon and enforced.

Thus, if the rest of you get together and decide to kick me out of the group and force me to give up my body, you don't have a "right" to do so, and I don't have a "right" to try and stop you, even though I will.

I'd say, "don't do that, you're breaking our agreement, and if you break it to attack me, someone will likely break it to attack you, and soon enough there will be no agreement and no security for anyone".

If the people controlling the government respond that it's merely "custom", I'd argue no, it's a matter of contract. And when the group breaks a contract with me, revoking my agreed upon and recognized right rather than protecting it, then yes, it's abandoning custom, but it's also breaking contract in a way that should make everyone in the group consider themselves at risk for being next on the chopping block.

"Custom" also cuts both ways. The folks most likely to employ the idea that your right is revoked because it's just based on "custom" are actually the folks that want to take the right away. They're the guys saying no one should have the right to... (fill in the blank for yourself with any of the things we generally consider to be socially objectionable, but should not want to eliminate by force of law).

MikeDC writes:

To all the commenters arguing we have no rights except what our fellow ctizens grant us - so what you are saying is the Founding Fathers were full of it with their "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" and all that nonsense?

Yes, but that shouldn't diminish the collective brilliance of the Founding Fathers.

Rather than emphasize their belief in a creator endowing us with inalienable rights, emphasize their mutually beneficial agreement to recognize and protect those rights among each other.

Crucially, this was and should remain an agreement amongst free equals, not "consent" of a sovereign toward its subjects. There's a difference.

The essential thing is not where we think the right comes from, but what we, as individual people, do to recognize them. If they came from God, then great, we're doing God's work. But the nice thing about what the Founders did was to create framework in which you don't have to agree that our rights come from God, and you didn't have to bow to a master. You just have to agree that they're a good thing, and that you'll protect your fellows' rights in exchange for their protection of yours.

egd writes:
This analogy makes perfect sense if (a) the government is the true owner of what I incorrectly call "my" house, and (b) I merely reside there with the government's permission. Otherwise, the analogy makes no sense at all.
The analogy is one of agency, not trespassing.

Why doesn't the son have the right to allow someone to move into the house? Because the son doesn't have the authority to transfer an ownership interest to a third party.

Why doesn't the son have the right to have someone do his chores for half his allowance? Because it's a nondischargable duty.

Although I'd argue in the latter case that the nondischargable duty must be made explicit. Absent that condition, I don't see the problem.

Besides, I don't think very many jurisdictions prohibit illegal immigrants from leasing or purchasing a home. If an illegal immigrant purchased a home, I doubt any jurisdiction would negate the sale based on the immigrant's status. The government isn't really exercising a superior ownership interest to the property owner.

Your trespass argument works better against nondiscrimination laws.

Andrew writes:

Matt is essentially correct. Our 'rights' are entirely dependent on our ability to defend them or the ability of someone else to defend them on our behalf.

Even the founders alluded to this with every mention of due process.

But, since society would implode without the illusion of rights, 'we' institute them in our daily lives. This is how people begin to believe that 'rights' evolve to include, education, healthcare, etc...

David Friedman writes:

"“Rights aren't god given they are people agreed upon, and exist based on custom"

I think that is an oversimplified, and in important ways mistaken, view of rights—considered not as a moral or legal category but as a description of behavior. It's worth noting that property rights predate our species-there are lots of animals which engage in territorial behavior, a primitive version of property rights in land. An individual claims territory, other members of the species mostly respect the claim. The explanation is not agreement, government, or custom but a mutually recognized pattern of commitment strategies.

For details on that way of looking at rights, see my essay on the subject.

Steve Sailer writes:

http://isteve.blogspot.com/2012/10/bryan-caplans-exquisite-moral.html

Vipul Naik writes:

Steve Sailer:

I read this as saying that your indifference point (or reservation price, if you please) for ending world poverty is reducing American GDP/capita by 1 cent. Am I misreading you?

Also, would you answer change at 0.5 cents or at 2 cents, or would those still be in your region of indifference?

ColoComment writes:

"I think the relevant question for Sailer is "How big would the gains to immgrants (sic) need to be in order for you to favor open borders?"

The U.S. already provides for unlimited numbers of foreign persons to be granted asylum if they are or may be subject to persecution in their own country on various bases. After one year of residence, a certain number of such persons in any one year may apply for permanent resident status.

So the answer to the question probably lies somewhere between zero and persecution, since that is already dealt with in law.

http://www.immihelp.com/gc/asylum.html

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

The whole notion that illegal immigration is a trespassing problem is an open-borders strawman, or perhaps I should write "tar baby." I have never seen a "restrictionist" bring it up first. Rather, open-borders advocates introduce it specifically so they can burn it down, hopefully while "restrictionists" are tangled up in it.

The right of citizens to exclude unwanted immigrants from some region is not rooted in the law of trespass. No thoughtful "restrictionists" say that it is, except carelessly while trailing some open-borders-advocate excitedly down a garden path decorated with open-borders strawmen, frantically trying to straighten him out.

Let me show you how we get diverted onto this kind of silliness:

Modal-ethics person M wants to restrict immigration. Libertarian L disagrees and wants to offer an argument to show that M's views are wrong. Now, libertarians often prefer to argue that all valid ethical rules stem from private property rights-- that's part of their culture. Fine. So L thinks "how do restrictions on immigration violate [my] property rights?" (It's a bit of a puzzler, since the person most prominently affected by an immigration restriction is the would-be immigrant, not the local property owner.)

"Let's see... I know!" exclaims L. "Private property owners have the right to exclude (the right to privacy) and immigration restrictions derogate that right because they can only be enforced by violating private property to seize and deport illegal immigrants!" [L will call them "willing workers."] Any interference with L's visitors (even before they arrive) violates L's property rights!

(In other words, L leaps from an essentially negative property right (the right to exclude unwanted visitors) that everyone basically agrees upon, to an essentially positive claim against society (the right to import anyone from anywhere and force everyone else to accept him as a neighbor) which people don't agree upon, without proving any logical correspondence.

This is the point where M gets suckered. M engages L's argument at the apparent soft spot, L's supposition that property rights are simple and absolute. M comes up with some hypothetical involving a condominium or better yet, a club good, to show L he's wrong. (In math this would be an attempt at proof by contradiction.)

Naïf that he is, M doesn't realize that L has gone over this angle in innumerable 3AM dorm-room bull sessions. L pounces: "Your examples all involve private contracts! Limiting immigration requires the government to Initiate Force (® L.P.). If you get the government involved that means you think the government owns everything, which means you are a SOCIALIST MOOCHER! HAHAHA! I GOT YOU!!!"

Anyway, I've been in poor M's shoes, suckered into an argument that L expects to win in step 4, 5, or 6 because L cheated in step 2 without M noticing.

The right to exclude from private property does not necessarily subsume a right to import anyone from anywhere onto said property. The difference is that invitees or tenants may pose problems for neighbors which a private property owner cannot or will not avert.* There's a big difference in the danger to neighbors from empty land compared to land occupied by, e.g., Romanian Gypsies. The implications of this simple fact have long since given rise to the ethical maxim sic utere tuo ut alienum non laedas.

It is moral even for libertarians to engage in self-defense. The right of self-defense necessarily includes the right to coöperate with others and use agents to defend against general and/or diffuse threats. Logically, self-defenders may take reasonable steps to avoid or avert threats as well as steps to interrupt or punish (for deterrent purposes) actual attacks. No reasonable person thinks "private property" is a moral bastion from which a "property owner" may aim a loaded cannon at his neighbors while denying their self-defense right to force him to point it somewhere else.


*The problem doesn't turn on the distinction between tenants and owners, nor can it be resolved by reducing government interference with property rights (e.g., repealing the Civil Rights Act so landlords may choose among tenants more efficiently). Even if you leave landowners with absolute dominion over their land, you cannot expect them to control their visitors' every action-- or if you do, you are logically condoning slavery.

Mperry writes:

In Steve's example, not only is the government the only owner of all property within a nation, but all of its subjects are mere children to be cared for/ordered about by the adults in the government.

Motoko writes:

Sailer's whole corporate directors analogy is begging the question. Of course they're contractually obligated to existing shareholders. But the contract itself could be unethical, right? Is this issue addressed? No.

The only reason it works in a corporate environment is because corporations are usually bound by laws... and even then you still get occasional shenanigans. You don't get the same result if you tell a law-making authority to "take care of its own".

Dan writes:

Mr. Caplan,

You profess a distaste for borders but your employer and your own job satisfaction depends on the existence of borders.

I doubt you would enjoy teaching if your classrooms were over-crowded and filled with students who were unprepared to discuss economics at the level you desire.

No, your employer and you impose limits on who can attend George Mason and who can receive credit for your courses.

Can you explain why advocate for a nation that which you do not practice in your own community?

Trespassers W writes:
How circular! "Rights of Man" in order for the rights of man to exist men must exist. Thus the existence of rights is dependent upon the existence of men.

Rights are grounded in the nature of man; specifically, the requirements for man's survival qua man in a social context. The existence of man isn't dependent upon the existence of rights. So how is that "circular"?

Numerical concepts on the other hand may exist independently of men.

Concepts don't exist outside of a conceptual consciousness; the only being we know of with conceptual consciousness is man. So, no, numerical concepts don't exist independently of man. (And yes, I am aware that there is a venerable school of philosophy that gets this horribly wrong.)

Castilian writes:

The fact that Caplan seems to be devoting so much effort to this debate proves (if it doesn't prove anything else) that Steve's position is sound enough and powerful enough to be worth refuting.

8 writes:

In Steve's example, not only is the government the only owner of all property within a nation, but all of its subjects are mere children to be cared for/ordered about by the adults in the government.

Actually, that is Bryan's position. If you do not have the power over your government, than you have no sovereignty, you are in the position of a serf to a king.

Christopher Chang writes:

There is an obvious upper bound on the level of immigration that rich First World countries as a group are morally obligated to accept: the level of actual Chinese immigration to the West in the last several decades. That level has been enough to allow the home countries, now containing over 1.3 billion people, to rise from subsistence peasantry to modernity.

Restrict immigration and education below that level, and there's a reasonable case to be made that you're maliciously oppressing foreigners. China could not have risen the way it did without extensive knowledge transfer from the West, and a key part of that process involved allowing some Chinese to live for decades under Western systems.

But once that fairly low level of immigration is permitted, the moral obligation is met. The US has no moral obligation to accept even a tenth of the current level of Mexican immigration. To the degree that life is not as great for the Mexican people as it could be, that's not the fault of US immigration policy; the problems lie elsewhere.

Also see http://openborders.info/blog/future-citizens-of-all-kinds/#comment-3728 .

John Smith writes:

To Bryan Caplan:

I think the consenus is overwhelming that your ideas are nonsense. One can quite rightly hold the same conclusions that you hold, but your thought process on this issue is deeply flawed. And this is coming from your online audience, who are presumably biased towards you if at all.

Rights are not necessarily absolute. Many rights are partial rights. You can believe in free immigration without having to resort to your silly ideas.

Brett_McS writes:

This is the problem with Libertarians: They try to argue first principles around a system - government - which is a pragmatic arrangement.

Either go the whole hog and argue from first principles (ala the great Anthony de Jasay) or else accept that some set of (arbitrary) rules (eg the US Constitution) are the founding axioms of further argument and take it from there. Conservatives do the later. Libertarians fall between two stools.

szopen writes:

A lot of libertarians discusses property rights as stemming from "initial acquisition" without even noticing, that they assume that "initial acquisition" is moral and that everyone will agree it is moral (for example, for me claiming something, which is not owned by anyone, is not necesarily moral)

(provoke by one sentence in insights by Friedman)

Morgan Warstler writes:

[Comment removed for rudeness and ad hominem remarks. --Econlib Ed.]

Brett_McS writes:

1. Open immigration
2. Welfare state
3. Democracy.

Pick two

I've lost the reference to where that came from. It's not too crazy. 1+3 would be a Libertarian-like position. The problem with that is that "3" usually leads to "2".

Brett_McS writes:

szopen, yes this is John Locke's argument. It's quite bizarre. Better to say the current owner is the rightful owner unless it can be proven otherwise in a court of law. It all depends on who has the benefit of the doubt - and it should certainly be the current rights holder.

Mike writes:

I think this discussion is going further afield than it needs to. Yes, there are probably circumstances in which Sailer would advocate open borders (for the specific benefit of the immigrants). No, we are nowhere near those circumstances.

But the larger fact is, countries that control their borders sometimes survive. Countries that don't control their borders always fail. When has this pattern EVER been broken?

Perhaps Caplan's arguments would be better applied to Japan, China, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and so forth. They all have much more restrictive borders than the US does. I would pay $500 for a videotape of Caplan putting forth his moral argument for open borders to said countries' representatives, and for their responses. Maybe we can get a pool going.

MikeP writes:

Countries that don't control their borders always fail. When has this pattern EVER been broken?

If by "control" you mean prevent free migration across, then the first 300 years of American history is a good start.

You can also take a look at every western country prior to World War I.

Mike writes:

MikeP, I may need to reframe my comment in a modern context. That said, if native americans had been able to control their borders, we'd be having a much different discussion.

Pithlord writes:

It seems there is some common ground. A for-profit corporataion is supposed to maximize shareholder value subject to side constraints imposed by law. A democratic government is supposed to maximize citizen welfare subject to side constraints imposed by international law and universal morality.

The rubber hits the road about what universal morality requires. While many people are more pro-immigration than Sailer, typically it is on the basis that higher levels of immigration than Sailer would like benefit the national interest (which must mean the welfare of the citizens).

To the extent Caplan argues that governments have no moral right to restrict immigration -- no matter how much that would benefit the citizenry -- he is clearly in the minority. Moreover, he is also clearly opposed to what has always been the positive law. That's fine. But then he needs to make an argument and not just say that it follows from generally-accepted principles about not waging aggresive war and enslaving people.

Pithlord writes:

The argument in this post, though, is clearly invalid. The premise that people's judgment on universal issues of morality is biased in favour of in-groups is not relevant to this discussion. The vast majority of Americans believe that the Belgians, Ethiopians and the Romanians have a right to exclude immigrants if they judge open borders inconsistent with their national interests. They may be wrong about this, but it isn't because they have pro-Ethiopian biases.

MikeP writes:

That said, if native americans had been able to control their borders, we'd be having a much different discussion.

And if open borders proponents thought that today's migration actually represented foreign conspiracies of settlement, the founding of independent territorial governments, armed invasion, the theft of land, and the serial abrogation of sovereign treaties, I too think we'd be having a much different discussion.

Mike writes:

I'm reconsidering the reframe. I think the important point is, borders have less need to be controlled if the border is between ethnic groups of roughly the same human capital. Canada and the US, for instance, or much of europe (sans roma, perhaps). However, when there's a significant difference in HBD, particularly in terms of human capital, there's more reason to control the border (sometimes in both countries' eyes). This is modified by ease of transportation, welfare state status of each country, discrimination against migrants, etc etc etc.

I feel like I'm retreading pretty standard ground here. Surely I don't need to spell everything out?

MikeP writes:

That is a fair retort. Certainly prior to the 19th century, the differential gain from migration was significantly less even if you migrated to the richest nation on the planet. Then at the beginning of the 20th century the Progressive Era backlash against limited government and individual freedom in general -- as well as the trade and currency blocs that developed into World War I -- made it politically palatable to pass protectionist legislation against new migration between nations.

Now, what countries since World War I have failed because they didn't control their borders?

Brett_McS writes:

"The first 300 years of American history" was certainly not an example of open borders. See the immigration time-line set out in Peter Brimelow's Alien Nation: '1620, the "Open Door Era" - Immigration actually regulated by colonies, later states, until 1875, with object of keeping out criminals, paupers and occasionally other groups considered undesirable, such as Irish servants)'.

Svigor writes:

Steve devotes most of his intellectual energy to making policy more biased in favor of citizens. He devotes almost no energy to explaining when that bias would, in his eyes, be sufficient or excessive. Given the many horrors committed by groups explicitly committed to in-group favoritism, he should preemptively affirm our moral obligations to out-groups instead of leaving the issue to listeners' imaginations.

Sure, assume Sailer's a moral monster unless he proves his innocence.

Seems like a failure of imagination to me. It should be easy for Caplan to come up with a couple of brain-twisters to challenge Sailer's citizenism, if there's really a big problem to suss out. Instead, Caplan wants Sailer to critique citizenism for him.

Now that moral obligations to out-groups are on the table, however, I'd appreciate more details. Steve, would you please name a few examples of citizenist policies that you think go slightly beyond the limits of our moral obligations to outsiders? A few examples of such policies that you think are just barely within those limits? Inquiring minds want to know.

I can't speak for Steve. And I'm not even a citizenist. But this is Caplan's job, not Sailer's. He's the one who doesn't like citizenism, so he should critique it. At the very least, he should be asking specific questions, rather than expecting Sailer to do all of his homework.

This is how principles work. It's impossible to plan for every permutation of circumstance. In real life we have to apply principles on the fly. This is another good reason to line up inherent human interests with policy; keeps our intellects in line with our principles, making these on-the-fly decisions easier.

P.S. If you think my trespassing argument is a straw man, Steve embraces it to the letter:

Caplan still doesn't understand analogies, then?

PS, my side hasn't had any problem coming up with real-world examples of why open-borders and liberaltarianism are horrible ideas (for the people who'd be implementing them, anyway).

MikeP writes:

...with object of keeping out criminals,...

That's okay, provided the crime is antisocial.

...paupers...

More properly, people that there was cause to believe would become wards of the state.

...and occasionally other groups considered undesirable, such as Irish servants...

Yeah, that worked well.

The acceptance rate at Ellis Island during the end of those three centuries of open borders was 98% in steerage and 100% in first and second class. And the entry rate was 100% at the southwestern frontier.

If that's not open borders, it's close enough for most people's tastes. At least there was a specific reason individually applied for those 2% that were rejected rather than "the quota of the type of you has been exceeded."

Svigor writes:

To all the commenters arguing we have no rights except what our fellow ctizens grant us - so what you are saying is the Founding Fathers were full of it with their "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights" and all that nonsense?

On their behalf, I'd answer that the endowed by their creator thing is how they agree on their common rights.

Personally, I think it's obvious that Natural Rights only exist insofar as men agree to and uphold them, yes. I'm warm toward the idea of Natural, God-given, or Inherent Rights, but that's just me; they still don't exist in practice except insofar as men enforce and uphold them.

Your trespass argument works better against nondiscrimination laws.

But since Caplan is a liberaltarian, he probably thinks "anti-discrimination" laws are peachy. Right?

It's worth noting that property rights predate our species-there are lots of animals which engage in territorial behavior, a primitive version of property rights in land.

Huh? Might makes right is a primitive version of Natural Rights? Sounds like nonsense to me.

An individual claims territory, other members of the species mostly respect the claim. The explanation is not agreement, government, or custom but a mutually recognized pattern of commitment strategies.

They respect it insofar as they want, and no further. If a stronger member comes along and wants it, he's going to take it.

I read this as saying that your indifference point (or reservation price, if you please) for ending world poverty is reducing American GDP/capita by 1 cent. Am I misreading you?

Also, would you answer change at 0.5 cents or at 2 cents, or would those still be in your region of indifference?

Personally, I don't care about ending world poverty, as such. I'm more into teaching men to fish than giving them my fish. If they're incompetent, then let their close relatives give them fish. If someone demands I give them some of my fish, then I demand they be sterilized, for the greater good you guys are always harping about; enabling the propagation of incompetence at the most basic elements of life is misanthropic IMO.

In short, I see better ways of helping the poor than moving them into my living room.

Restrict immigration and education below that level, and there's a reasonable case to be made that you're maliciously oppressing foreigners.

Riiight. Insisting on reciprocity is "malicious." So's the Golden Rule! Hell, everybody already knows that reciprocity is the very apotheosis of evil, why am I preaching to the choir?

1. Open immigration
2. Welfare state
3. Democracy.

Pick two

I've lost the reference to where that came from. It's not too crazy. 1+3 would be a Libertarian-like position. The problem with that is that "3" usually leads to "2".

More like pick one. How is democracy supposed to survive the mass immigration of people who aren't really capable of creating or sustaining it?

Perhaps Caplan's arguments would be better applied to Japan, China, South Korea, Norway, Sweden, Canada, and so forth. They all have much more restrictive borders than the US does. I would pay $500 for a videotape of Caplan putting forth his moral argument for open borders to said countries' representatives, and for their responses. Maybe we can get a pool going.

You forgot Israel, which is a hell of an omission. Personally, I think Israel should be everyone's first example, seeing how Israel is Americans' favorite country, apparently. I say we peg our immigration policy to theirs, and leave it at that.

And if open borders proponents thought that today's migration actually represented foreign conspiracies of settlement, the founding of independent territorial governments, armed invasion, the theft of land, and the serial abrogation of sovereign treaties, I too think we'd be having a much different discussion.

Sounds like you think America is an illegitimate country built on stolen property. Doesn't that obligate you to give up your (American) property and GTFO?

MikeDC writes:

A lot of libertarians discusses property rights as stemming from "initial acquisition" without even noticing, that they assume that "initial acquisition" is moral and that everyone will agree it is moral (for example, for me claiming something, which is not owned by anyone, is not necesarily moral)

This is why I'd argue the legal interpretation of rights (we bring rights into existence through the rational act of mutual agreement) is the way to go.

I wouldn't dismiss Friedman's notions that this rational act follows upon instinctive behavioral strategies, but as sentient beings, it's our capacity for reason that lets us promote our well-being at something beyond an instinctive level, and give fulfillment to the idea of having rights and freedom.

Mike writes:

Discussing this with open borders believers feels like debating with members of the Flat Earth Society. If these people can't agree in the basic fundamentals of the discussion. then there is simply no point in going forward with the discussion.

You can argue the merits of immigration but to argue against the government having any superior obligation to it's own citizens vice obligations to non-citizens, hence the "citizenist" debate is one of those "flat earth" points.

Open borders are incompatible with the growing welfare state. Since I pay a tremendous amount of taxes and so in essence "own" this house then you can damn well be sure that I have a voice on who and how many are let in the house. Through the welfare state I am required to pay for these new residences and under Obama Care that will get exponentially worse.

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

"property rights predate our species"

A Right is a conclusion of a series of arguments, It requires a rational species to conceive of Rights.
Man is the only rational animal (Aristotle).

RE: Inalienable rights are
1) Conferred by the Creator (according to the Declaration of Independence).

Do libertarians recognize the Creator?

2) They exist by the (created) human nature. But nations too exist by the human nature.
The City (e.g. Nation) exists by nature (Aristotle).
and the City is Prior to the Individual and the Family (Aristotle).

So there are two options
1) The classical position- of City being Prior to the Individual
2) The liberal position-The individual being prior to the City (or nation or tribe).

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

MikeDC,
The libertarians (and liberals more generally) confuse Property with territory.
Witness David Friedman talking about property rights being exhibited in animal territorial behavior.

They are simply unable to grasp the crucial distinction between a possession held by arguments among rational persons and a possession held by force by either rational or non-rational creatures.

The property rights follow the rational i.e. the moral nature of man. Fundamentally, a man is entitled to the fruit of his labor.

But land is not the fruit of any man's labor.

Steve Sailer writes:

Pithlord writes:
[Comments 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.]

Oh, come on, Pithlord is one of the best commenters on the Web. He's whomped me in debates several times over the years.

[That may be, and we welcome his comments regardless of whether he's whomped you or not; but he still has to respond to our email validation check to comment here. See our FAQ page for our comment policies.

[Note that he did validate his email address and his comments have been restored now.--Econlib Ed.]

Bedarz Iliaci writes:

Caplan is wrong about Govt being the owner of the an individual's house. That is, he is not understanding the opponent's argument which has nothing to do with Govt being an super-owner.

Rather, the individual ownerships exist in the territory controlled by the Govt.

The individual's ownership is not absolute but is relative to the State in which they are defined.

A foreign conquest would immediately render moot all the ownership rights in a given state.

In fact, a State could be defined as the principle of cohesion of the property rights that exist in it.

The libertarian confuses between the property and territory.

Ownership exists in a state of laws and is defined and secured by Arguments that conclude in a Right.

Territory exists in a state of nature and is defined and secured by Force that conclude in an Occupation

Nations or tribes do own land but occupy territory.

Individuals own land within the national or tribal territory. Do not confuse the national level with the individual level.

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