Bryan Caplan  

Why Sailer Scares

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The full text of Steve Sailer's response to my Eugenic Experiment post reads:

According to Gregory Clark's research on wills in England from 1200 to 1800, that's pretty much how English society worked: the richer you were, the earlier you could get married and the more children you would tend to have.

And we all know how badly that turned out!

In the past (see here, here, and here for starters), Steve and his fans have criticized me for interpreting him uncharitably.  While Steve openly favors policies "based in favor of current fellow citizens," he still acknowledges moral obligations to non-citizens:

But, Bryan, as you may have noticed in the first line you quoted from me, I said,

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.

"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.

My response to Steve's clarifications:
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.
With this context in mind, consider Steve's reaction to my Eugenic Experiment post.  Does he explicitly advocate denying people with below-median income the right to have children?  No.  But he does nothing to reassure readers that he would oppose such laws.  Indeed, I think that neutral observers will agree that Steve comes as close as possible to advocating draconian eugenic laws without actually saying, "I advocate draconian eugenic laws." 

Indeed, his two-sentence comment strongly suggests two frightening positions:

1. There is no important moral distinction between (a) a social system where everyone is perfectly free to have children, but rich people end up having more kids than poor people, and (b) a social system where draconian eugenic policies actually forbid poor people to have kids.*

2. The social consequences of England's historic differential fertility were so outstanding that we shouldn't morally criticize draconian eugenic policies likely to have similar effects.

To repeat, I'm fully aware that Steve has tipped his hat to moral side constraints.  My point is that while he recognizes such constraints at an abstract level, such constraints have almost no visible influence over his concrete evaluations.  In fact, Steve seems to find antinomian fun in scoffing at moral condemnation of draconian eugenic policies.  If you say his comments were designed to be humorous, note that much of the humor arises from the likelihood that many readers take him seriously.

Does Steve genuinely favor denying half of Americans the right to reproduce?  It's hard to know.  It is the uncertainty that he carefully cultivated that makes Sailer's thought so scary to so many - including me.  We shouldn't have to wonder if a thinker approves of denying half the population the right to have children.

* Generalizing this approach would imply, for example, that there is no important moral difference between a 99% Catholic country with freedom of religion, and a 99% Catholic country where an Inquisition cruelly persecutes dissenters to maintain Catholicism's dominance.



COMMENTS (79 to date)
James Miller writes:

In your ideal open border low welfare United States what happens to poor parents who have more kids than they can afford to support if private charity turns out not to give this support?

terra writes:

If someone is so willing to take a politically incorrect stance in no uncertain terms as he does, but then has left his views ambiguous once we get to this heinous moral boundary, shouldn't it be obvious what his views are?

Simon Cranshaw writes:

I have two questions about the citizenist position.
1. Assuming you are American, what policy does it make you favor for other nations, like Japan say? Does it mean you advocate open borders in Japan for US citizens as advantageous to your compatriots? Or do you think yourself into the position of a Japanese person and advocate closed borders?
2. As a thought experiment, does a veil of ignorance change the policy you advocate for the US? If you knew you would be born somewhere in the world but not where, would you prefer US borders to be more open?

Silas Barta writes:

The same reply of "when is it too much?" can be (and has been) levied against your own pro immigration stance. What if Chinese army regulars want to "immigrate" peacefully to strategic points and then "import" all their weaponry? (Free trade in stealth bombers!)

Obviously open borders doesn't obligate you not to fight back, but it makes you hold back until the last possible second.

Is there really no point where you would say "gosh, I don't mean to be racist or anything, but we can only let a few of you in and we want some signs of assimilation"?

Sam Hardwick writes:

I certainly wouldn't advocate a negative eugenics law, but at the same time it's kind of hard to will away the often brutal periods of history that have ultimately led to human improvement. I'm not just talking about 15th c. England; the social systems of prehistoric times must have left a lot to be desired from our point of view. You know?

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

@ Simon

I can't speak for Steve, but I claim to be a citizenist, too (thanks to Steve's coinage of the term). I say:

1. Japanese government manages Japanese border in the interest of Japanese citizens.
2. No.

Expanding on 2, I believe that any approach to public policy ought to be made in light of John Rawl's famous question (If you were about to be born and didn't know to which parents, what public policies would you advocate?). This question doesn't, however, self-evidently decide on the virtue of this policy or that. As critics have noted, different people would organize society differently.

Andrew Swift writes:

I wouldn't claim to know what Steve thinks, but I do see a societal trend (or maybe just a habit) of asking people to explicitly condemn things as proof of their moral purity.

It's as if we're saying: if you refuse to condemn eugenics you're implicitly endorsing it.

This is dangerous intellectually and helps create a climate of witch hunting.

Steve seems like a kind and logical guy, and I think we can assume that the positions he hasn't expressed are as kind and logical as the positions he has expressed.

To me, the whole point of his blog is, on one hand, to point out and to make fun of all the do-gooders who are creating a world that they won't want to live in, and on the other hand to say that we could do real good by doing simple things for the people we care about.

One of the basic elements of the modern political correctness epidemic is the belief that we are all-powerful and so we have to change everything and help everyone.

The Nazis etc. were an expression of that power-drunken mentality.

Steve (I think) is at the opposite end of the spectrum. He's pointing out that we don't have that kind of power. Our efforts to fix everything consistently fail. But, we can change some things and help some people.

Steve Sailer writes:

Bryan:

Your arguments would get less tangled up if you'd simply keep in mind that I'm a moderate who takes reasonable positions, while you are an extremist who is drawn to promoting unreasonable ones. Please stop projecting your own immoderation upon me.

For example, there is an obvious distinction you fail to recognize between my appreciating the difficulties our ancestors went through -- what Nicholas Wade calls "the Malthusian wringer" that helped make us who we are -- and my very much not wanting to inflict similar levels of competition upon our descendants.

Instead, it's you who wants to subject the descendants of American citizens to the neo-Malthusian nightmare of Open Borders.

Eric Falkenstein writes:

All sorts of behaviors are associated with positive outcomes: not doing drugs, having children in a two-parent family, learning to lead, follow or get out of the way. To say these aren't bad, in fact good, is very different than saying they should be enforced via mandates. A lot of libertarianism is based on this distinction; indeed, a lot of Christianity is based on making good choices in the context of a God that let's us (supposedly) sin.

Encouraging such good choices institutionally, or at least not subsidizing bad choices, is hardly the same as mandating choices, and I think good policy.

Bostonian writes:

You can discourage poor people from having children by cutting food stamps, the earned income tax credit, and other forms of welfare. I favor that. You can also discourage them from having children through zoning laws that inflate the cost of housing and make it impossible for the poor to own homes large enough to accommodate large families. Or by doing anything else that raises the costs of necessities such as food and energy. I oppose that. A good form of eugenics is not actively spending money on programs with dysgenic effects.

Finch writes:

Bostonian makes a good point. Frankly so does Sailer when he says you're the one being an extremist here, not him.

There's a lot of room between where we are and income-neutral pro-child policies before we get to anything that could be remotely called eugenic or coercive.

As a first step, all expenses associated with child-rearing should be deductible. Otherwise moderate and higher income people are severely discouraged from having children by the tax system. Since this might be a little hard from a record-keeping standpoint, my suggestion would be to raise the child-tax credit to $30k, but make it non-refundable.

Jeff writes:
The same reply of "when is it too much?" can be (and has been) levied against your own pro immigration stance. What if Chinese army regulars want to "immigrate" peacefully to strategic points and then "import" all their weaponry? (Free trade in stealth bombers!)

Obviously open borders doesn't obligate you not to fight back, but it makes you hold back until the last possible second.

Silas, remember that Bryan is a pacifist, too, so the reality is actually worse than that. Not only is it immoral in his world to stop the Chinese army from immigrating en masse, but it is also, from what I can gather, immoral to resist them if/when they take your stuff and ship you off to some sort of farming collective or "people's commune."

But Sailer is the scary one.

Bostonian writes:

Finch wrote, "There's a lot of room between where we are and income-neutral pro-child policies before we get to anything that could be remotely called eugenic or coercive."

In today's political environment, even policies that are non-coercive will be denounced as eugenic. For example, I'd like American universities to cut their list prices and also give less "need-based" financial aid. $25K for everyone, take it or leave it, rather than $65K for the rich and $0K for the poor. Affluent people would have more children if college cost less. Advocating a flatter price scheme with the rationale above would be denounced as "eugenics".

Julien Couvreur writes:

When I first read Steve Sailer's comment (on the original post), it gave me the chills too. I interpreted his comment to likely mean "maybe eugenics ain't such a bad idea".

Reading his new above comment (on extremism vs. moderation), he clearly states being against Open Borders, but nothing indicates whether he is against Open Breeding on similar grounds or not.

To help the discussion forward with clear positions, maybe Steve could answer (yes or no, if possible):
(1) whether he supports government policies to decrease breeding from some groups relative to some preferred groups (based on some criteria).
(2) whether he supports government policies to decrease breeding in general (with no intention towards specific groups, but with predictable and disproportionate effects on specific groups anyways).

Tom West writes:

In defense of Mr. Sailer's comment, it *is* possible to think that many positive developments came out of disasters like the Black Death without actually wanting a re-appearance.

However, I think Bryan's take is pretty much spot on.

Steve's income is dependent on skating between being *just* moderate enough (by not endorsing tactics like eugenics) that he can be read by some of the mainstream and yet catering to the people that actually pay for his living, who are far less veiled in their racism (and may well believe eugenics is a good thing).

He's the clearest example of dog-whistle blogging I've ever seen, feeding his supporters just enough to ensure they know he's "one of us", without crossing the boundary that gets him discarded by every mainstream blogger (instead of just most of them).

I have no idea what he actually believes on the inside. You don't have the luxury of changing much when your living depends on your holding certain views. And if it's like anywhere else, it isn't the moderates who are most willing to pay to hear their views promulgated by someone with (semi) mainstream acceptance.

Finch writes:

Julien, I'm not sure how clarifying your questions are.

My position is that the US government is aggressively anti-child for people making more than about $50k per year, and mildly pro-child for people making less. The problem is almost entirely on the higher-earning side of the house. Welfare reform helped a lot with the more bizarre incentives for low-earners. So I suppose I answer "no" to both questions. But that's not exactly illuminating.

Steve Sailer writes:

No law would drive down the number of children American citizens could have more radically than Bryan's Open Borders.

Steve Sailer writes:

Open Borders would represent the state in effect going to war against American families.

Eelco Hoogendoorn writes:

It is quite interesting to see Brian, being of a libertarian bent, try so hard to blur the lines between state action intent on achieving eugenic effects, or differential fertility arising out of spontaneous order.

As far as I can tell, Sailer makes no reference to state action intent on achieving eugenic effects.

Not that I would be very much surprised if he were in favor of such, but regardless, the line of reasoning which Brian follows here is analogous to claiming that if you are against the minimum wage, you must be intent on people starving to death.

Finch writes:

> As far as I can tell, Sailer makes no reference to
> state action intent on achieving eugenic effects.

I seem to recall him speaking in favor of the free contraception aspects of Obamacare.

Handle writes:

Pariah-baiting.

It's absolutely stunning how similar in tone and structure this post is to Yoram Bauman's response to Caplan's review of his cartoon book.

Andrew Swift is right. We've entered the era of discourse in which one cannot say anything without being immediately cornered to make a loyalty-oath and pass a religious-test.

Eelco Hoogendoorn writes:

I seem to recall him speaking in favor of the free contraception aspects of Obamacare.

Well, that would still only be the 'soft paternalism' which is generally viewed as morally neutral by libertarians, or even as a positive substitute for the more coercive mechanism that political economy would otherwise bring forth.

Finch writes:

> Well, that would still only be the 'soft paternalism'

Oh yeah, I completely agree. It's certainly not how Bryan makes it sound. But it is an active attempt to reduce the fertility of some people.

I'm not sure this is completely rational, but personally I'm less comfortable with adding state disincentives for procreation to some people than I am with removing state disincentives for procreation from some people. But making Sailer's position on this point sound extreme is just silly.

grey enlightenment writes:

[Please see your email about editing your comment.--Econlib Ed.]

Officious writes:

@ Tom West:

I didn't know that it was possible to get rich by blogging for racists. Maybe I should try it. I've got little money and little shame. But I'm not sure that I could pull off Sailer's alleged trick of writing things that the mainstream will think sound moderate but racists and eugenicists (and Tom West) will realize are actually viciously racist. Wouldn't it be easier for Sailer to make his fortune by just straightforwardly blogging for moderates and not troubling himself to drop veiled messages to racists? Or by dropping the veil and just straightforwardly blogging for racists?

I don't know Sailer's income. And I don't know who, if anybody, is paying for his living. But I am skeptical of the accusation that he is insincerely taking positions in which he does not believe at the behest of his paymasters.

Officious writes:

Re: free contraception

It strikes me as quite a stretch to call a man a eugenicist because he thinks it's a good idea to give contraceptives to a woman who doesn't want a child but doesn't have the money (or doesn't want to spend it) to buy her own contraceptives. Helping that woman to avoid procreating strikes me as unambiguously beneficial: for her, for her would-have-been child and for society.

Dan W. writes:

Think of the United States as the Notre Dame Football team. Think of "Rudy" as a poor immigrant. The opportunity for "Rudy" to not only make the practice squad but to join the team on the field is a great story. But it is only a great story since there was only one Rudy.

Is there a movie if there are 10 or 20 "Rudys" on the practice squad? Is there Notre Dame football?

I want to believe there is opportunity for countless poor, uneducated immigrants to come to America and, starting on the practice squad, work up and get a chance to take the field in a real game. I want to believe this but is it so? Does scarcity apply to nations? It most certainly applies to seats on a plane, roster spots on a team, enrollment in a university and jobs at a company. What makes a nation different that it can provide limitless resources and a limitless capacity to all who enter?


Chuck Dave writes:

Sailer's citizenist views are not extreme, and would be more widespread among everyday folks if it was more widely disseminated. Open Borders is extreme and send chills up my spine--and I'm the son of a Mexican immigrant.

candid_observer writes:

It really is breathtaking to see the amount of effort Caplan undertakes here to try to pretend that Sailer said something he didnt.

According to Caplan, if Sailer doesnt come out and say something he, Caplan, deems sufficiently "reassuring" on a point, then Sailer can be fairly saddled with having adopted the most horrible position on that point.

Its really hard even to take such an argument seriously.

Every last statement Sailer has made here seems morally pretty unremarkable to me. And Ive read enough by him to know that he has never, even remotely, suggested that an explicit governmental eugenic policy should be adopted. It doesnt require a genius to realize that a society can be dysgenic -- not least because its more capable members may refuse to breed in numbers even sufficient for replacement -- and to deplore that fact, without believing the government has to take action. Everything Ive ever read by Sailer is consistent with this view, as one would expect from his generally libertarian stance.

Look, if you cant find a single thing someone says that you can directly interpret as endorsing a horrible point, then maybe its just not right to pretend that he has asserted that point, you know? Maybe youre being the horrible one for acting as if he has.

If youve got a quote from Sailer where he says something horrible, produce it for Gods sake.

And spare us all this talk about "dog-whistles". Youre just hearing noises in your own head, that confirm the biases you have toward your opponents.

Massimo writes:

The intended result of eugenics is great for humanity. Draconian policies to achieve eugenics, like murdering low IQ children are a bad idea for two reasons: they don't justify the end result and they would probably back fire. A happier non-draconian eugenic system is the ideal.

That is what I believe, and what it seems obvious that Sailer believes. I am baffled where Caplan is coming from in suggesting that Sailer and his fans do not see a moral distinction
between draconian vs non-draconian eugenics.

Of course, if I am right, Sailer should echo or endorse my first two sentences.

Scott Locklin writes:

"But he does nothing to reassure readers that he would oppose such laws... (blah blah, evil blah) "

For someone who invented the "ideological Turing test" -you certainly are failing the ideological Turing test.

Looking at your wikipedia page, I find it hard to believe that a man who "holds the view that twin studies and adoption studies have demonstrated conclusively that parenting style has very little impact on the adult outcomes of children." -could possibly have a problem with something like Sailer's ideas. Unless you haven't thought that bit of information through yet.

Sailer has explicitly, several times, gone through the trouble of mentioning Francis Galton, who advocated for a very Cass Sunstein-like "nudge" approach to encouraging intelligent people to have more children. Seems sensible to me. It also seems like a huge waste of human potential to have all those childless Ph.D.'s in math, engineering and physics, while their taxes go to subsidize the children of people who have spent time in prison. I mean, I dunno; even if you believe human qualities are randomly normally distributed, at least mathematicians have more future orientation than jailbirds.

Tom West writes:

Wouldn't it be easier for Sailer to make his fortune by just straightforwardly blogging for moderates and not troubling himself to drop veiled messages to racists? Or by dropping the veil and just straightforwardly blogging for racists?

First, I'm pretty certain he's not getting rich, but I do think support from his web site readers is a major portion of his income.

Second, just like any business, you need a niche without too much competition. Steve has found his niche, and there aren't a lot of people occupying it (that I know of). I think he'd see a serious drop of income if he went moderate (as well, he's kind of poisoned the well for that sort of change) or if he went extremist (I think Steve's attraction to his readers is that he's taken seriously by the semi-mainstream.)

(Also, moderates aren't big on spending money to support people who share their views. If you want to make a living politically blogging directly from reader donations, you're best off having an aggrieved readership who want to support "one of us".)

Lastly, I'm fairly certain that Steve's personal views are fairly close to his public personae. However, I have noticed that when some of his readers get annoyed by his comments (like when he twice suggested that Obama was probably fairly smart) that he backs off. If you're a political blogger, you don't survive by needling your reader's oxen, let along goring them.

As for "viciously racist", it depends on whether you consider promulgating the idea that non-Europeans aren't really capable (as a whole) of being part of American middle-class society as viciously racist. Given that society is already multi-ethnic, I consider his views to be actively harmful, but I doubt he goes around physically kicking minorities.

Dan writes:

What's scary Mr. Caplan is that you don't understand that the primary purpose a nation exists is for the benefit of its citizens. Any citizen who doesn't believe they owe more of an obligation to their fellow citizens than noncitizens can and should relinquish their citizenship. Check Americansfirst.org.

doombuggy writes:

Bryan Caplan is just anxious to give stuff away. Other people's stuff.

The US economy contracted last quarter. Where is all the wonderful growth we were to get from recent record immigration? Nonexistent, as is obvious to anyone who cares to notice.

If one nation is obligated to take in another nation's citizens, then first nation should have some say in second nation's policies; and ultimately how many citizens second nation gets to breed. It eventually becomes a math problem: resources divided by bodies, as any animal husbandman knows.

Caplan and crew here are loathe to consider explicit eugenics policies. But something is going to happen, and doing nothing is not always the best policy choice.

ThomasH writes:

I don't think Sailer (I never though I would defend him) is obliged to explain exactly how far away from the worst possible interpretation of his views he stands.

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

Why should Steve Sailer think up a parade of horribles he hasn't advocated and repudiate them as if he had? And when did you stop beating your wife?

As for people having antinomian fun, is that less entertaining than glass-house-dwellers tossing pebbles?

Anonymous writes:

Any given policy might hold the potential for eugenic or dysgenic effects. Say you have two proposals identical but for this effect: which are you going to pick?

Eugenics are practiced at the individual level every time someone considers the suitability of another for marriage and child-rearing. At the familial level whenever parents attempt to influence their children's marriage choices. At the religious level, still, in many societies, here still among the Jewish community. Is this immoral behavior?

And at the individual level does this not constitute self-interest? And--a libertarian should appreciate this--doesn't this self-interested behavior constitute responsible social behavior, in that the efforts of said individual improve the prospects for his progeny to be more productive and law-abiding?

I mean, you can pretend it's a matter of indifference whether Suzy mates with, say, an econ professor or a death-row inmate on a conjugal visit, and maybe it is, but what if Suzy is your daughter? What if she's your niece? Second cousin?
Is having a preference here immoral?

Rafal Smigrodzki writes:

Bryan writes about "denying half of Americans the right to reproduce", as I understand, mostly in the context of specific legal prohibitions. There is no need for it.

Beneficial social outcomes can be achieved in a simpler way: Just stop paying people to have children they can't afford to support on their own. Today the state spends hundreds of billions of dollars to subsidize, through a myriad of channels, the reproduction of persons who are either unable or unwilling to pay for that out of their own pockets. I am hard pressed to find a justification for this policy. The negative outcomes are obvious and significant.

Don't rob Peter to pay Paul.

Anonymous writes:


I have two questions about the citizenist position.
1. Assuming you are American, what policy does it make you favor for other nations, like Japan say? Does it mean you advocate open borders in Japan for US citizens as advantageous to your compatriots? Or do you think yourself into the position of a Japanese person and advocate closed borders?
2. As a thought experiment, does a veil of ignorance change the policy you advocate for the US? If you knew you would be born somewhere in the world but not where, would you prefer US borders to be more open?

Ah yes. Assume we have a can opener...

Steve Sailer writes:

Something else I'd like call attention to is Bryan's presumption that I have some kind of obligation -- when contributing unpaid comments to his minor blog posts -- for me to write lengthy, nuanced explications of my full views on all the ramifications of a topic, and that if I don't spend hours crafting my free comment for his not terribly popular blog, he has the right to make up what he thinks I meant.

Steve Sailer writes:

If you are interested in what I _really_ believe on a topic, well, there are these things called search engines that can lead you to what I've written over the decades.

For example, here's an article I wrote about eugenics in 2005:

http://www.vdare.com/articles/free-to-choose-insemination-immigration-and-eugenics

William Wright 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.

Why would he? It's self-evident, even from a libertarian perspective!

It's excessive when it's aggressive.

LBK writes:

Amen Rafal.
Being opposed to involuntarily subsidizing other people's children does not equal supporting eugenics.
How many lovely, well-adjusted, happily married couples do you know who have 2 (or fewer) children because they can't afford more? Perhaps they could afford more if they weren't paying astronomical taxes. And some of those taxes go to support the Baby Mama with 12 neglected children.

Simon Cranshaw writes:

Kenneth, thank you for the reply.

1. Japanese government manages Japanese border in the interest of Japanese citizens.
I understand that this is what they do. What I was asking is what does the American citizenist think that they should do? If they think that Japan should keep tight borders in favor of Japanese citizens, why does the American citizenist imagine themself a Japanese citizen? Why not advocate open borders toward American citizens? There are many Americans who want to live and work in Japan.

2. No.
If not, then is citizenism actually informing your view on border policy? If your views don't change whether you are an American citizen or not, then is citizenism relevant?

Jason Braswell writes:

And Sailer still hasn't given a clear answer, even when asked for one.

HA writes:

He devotes almost no energy to explaining when that bias would, in his eyes, be sufficient or excessive.

This is patently false. Sailer – along with many other paleoconservatives – has issued countless postings about the folly of American meddling in foreign affairs, not only because he claims it fails to benefit Americans, but also because it harms those being meddled with. For example, Google "iSteve Nuland Ukraine".

Since I have an idea of these conversations usually play out, let me anticipate the arguments of Sailer’s detractors and their reflexive claims that Sailer’s postings on such topics are actually outpourings of his animus against neoconservatives (i.e. Jews), which only shows that you cannot please some people. They need a bogeyman, and Sailer will do.

If Caplan likewise continues to twist Sailer’s fairly measured views into villainry (despite his appalling lack of self-awareness regarding the havoc his own views would wreak on both current Americans and those who seize upon the lure of American citizenship – not to mention on those the immigrants leave behind), maybe he should just find someone else to fixate on.

That being said, as someone who is no fan of eugenics, I commend Caplan for managing to write about it without once mentioning Hitler or the Nazis.

Eric Rasmusen writes:

Bostonian made a very good comment:


"A good form of eugenics is not actively spending money on programs with dysgenic effects."

At the margin, isn't it obvious that the effect of people having more children should be counted in? Suppose we can predict that if a group of people have more children, that will make the rest of us worse off. (I said, "Suppose", but if you want a realistic example, take drug addicted compulsive gamblers who have never held honest employment. Don't take "the lower half of the income distribution".) Isn't it reasonable to both (1) avoid paying those people to have children, and (2) go further and pay them *not* to have children, or even (3) tax them if they have children? Economics isn't morality, but from the pure economics point of view, this is just your garden-variety externality, justifying regulation or a Pigouvian tax.

Of course, morality matters too. Many people support free abortion for the poor, often with the argument that it will reduce the number of unloved babies, but since abortion is wrong, we shouldn't do it even if the eugenic effect is good.

Crawfurdmuir writes:

From a legal standpoint, there is no prescriptive right of immigration into any particular country under the jus gentium (the customary law of nations as it existed before the advent of UN globaloney), and there is certainly no such right under the U.S. Constitution.

Emma Lazarus's poem at the base of the Statue of Liberty has neither legal nor Constitutional force. It must further be borne in mind that it was written when this country had an open frontier and no social safety net. Circumstances have changed. Open borders are not compatible with a generous welfare state. The political chances of the welfare state disappearing are small. Ergo, as a taxpayer, I oppose open borders. It is appropriate for the legislature to decide how many foreigners may enter this country in the course of a given time period, and from what foreign countries.

While I might not agree with every aspect of the Immigration Act of 1924, it was certainly within the authority of Congress to have enacted it, as it would be within its authority to repeal the current (1965) act and restore the Act of 1924. Again, this is more a question of what is politically achievable than one of what is theoretically possible.

John Jay with great insight wrote as follows in Federalist No. 2:

"With equal pleasure I have as often taken notice that Providence has been pleased to give this one connected country to one united people -- a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs, and who, by their joint counsels, arms, and efforts, fighting side by side throughout a long and bloody war, have nobly established general liberty and independence.

"This country and this people seem to have been made for each other, and it appears as if it was the design of Providence, that an inheritance so proper and convenient for a band of brethren, united to each other by the strongest ties, should never be split into a number of unsocial, jealous, and alien sovereignties."

Admission of those that are either unwilling to assimilate, or incapable of assimilation, is no favor either to the present citizens of this country or to the would-be immigrants. Both suffer from the resultant social fragmentation. We ought to consider carefully whether it is really true, as the politically-correct punditocracy tells us, that "diversity is strength." The truth seems more likely to be otherwise - that in a diverse population, there is none of that feeling of social unity that once existed among "a people descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs."

Too much diversity may be suicidal. And that, I fear, is precisely what the advocates of open borders wish to bring about - the death of the kind of America this country was for the great majority of its history. As a descendant of seventeenth-century settlers on both sides of my family, this kind of America is what I desperately wish to preserve for its future generations.

Bostonian writes:

Eric Rasmusen wrote,
"Don't take "the lower half of the income distribution".) Isn't it reasonable to both (1) avoid paying those people to have children, and (2) go further and pay them *not* to have children, or even (3) tax them if they have children?"

No, (3) is coercive eugenics that I oppose both on moral and practical grounds. If a couple can support their children with their earnings, the government does not have the right to interfere with their child bearing.

J. Simms writes:
Does Steve genuinely favor denying half of Americans the right to reproduce? It is the uncertainty that he carefully cultivated that makes Sailer's thought so scary to so many - including me.

Please elaborate on this "right to reproduce", especially as it pertains to those who can't find anyone to voluntarily mate with them--currently wetting pants due to uncertainty.

cloudswrest writes:

Regarding breeding discrimination for the poor, given the US has a progressive income tax, the tax rate should be based on per capita family income. For example a family of five with with an adjusted gross income of $200,000 should be taxed the equivalent of five independent people, each making $40,000. This helps the rich have more kids and "spread the wealth around", while not benefiting the poor, who pay no taxes anyway.

Steve Sailer writes:

Tom West writes of me:

"I have no idea what he actually believes on the inside."

You know, Ron Unz recently calculated that my iSteve blog posts add up to 6 million words. If you take my articles, my book, my random comments on other people's blogs, that's gotta be 10 million words of mine that can be found online with search engines. While I appreciate the compliment to my purported brainpower implied by Mr. West's often aired conspiracy theory that my 10 million or so posted words represent merely a facade that I've craftily constructed to cover up my own inscrutable real beliefs, the truth is I'm not smart enough to be some kind of Straussian hermeneutic genius.

Isn't it more plausible that I'm closer to the pole of no-thought-goes-unexpressed, that with me what-you-see-is-what-you-get?

Tom West writes:

As a descendant of seventeenth-century settlers on both sides of my family, this kind of America is what I desperately wish to preserve for its future generations.

Except if America had kept to only those 17th century settlers and their descendents, it would be a sad, insignificant shadow of what it is today.

It was a common enough sentiment that new immigrants from a century or two ago would not or could not assimilate. Heck, they weren't even white! Heeding such a sentiment would have doomed the US to irrelevancy.

How do we know that catering to a similar sentiment today isn't an equally big mistake?

KFS writes:

Judge Judy is always the most watched daytime TV show. I've heard her say this many times: "Don't have children if you can't afford to support them." Most people agree.

Ghost of Christmas Past writes:

I regret that the link I intended to provide above somehow vanished. Perhaps it will work this time:

Someone besides Steve Sailer has "antinomian fun" now and again.

(For the curious, "antinomian" doesn't mean precisely immoral, but rather lawless. It comes from the notion held by some Christians, though generally condemned as heretical, that having received God's grace Christians are freed from any duty of obedience to moral or civil law.)

[I fixed the html for you in the original comment.--Econlib Ed.]

Glaivester writes:

1. Assuming you are American, what policy does it make you favor for other nations, like Japan say? Does it mean you advocate open borders in Japan for US citizens as advantageous to your compatriots? Or do you think yourself into the position of a Japanese person and advocate closed borders?

I think most citizenists recognize the right of people in other countries to be citizenists. Moreover, being "biased in favor of" the welfare of fellow citizens does not mean that this is the only criterion for policy.

Practically speaking, citizenism does not require one to have an opinion on other countries' immigration policies. But I imagine that most citizenists would recognize citizenism in other countries and support it on a reciprocal principle.

2. As a thought experiment, does a veil of ignorance change the policy you advocate for the US? If you knew you would be born somewhere in the world but not where, would you prefer US borders to be more open?

Why does this matter? The fact that if I were born in a third-world country I might desperately want to move to a richer country does not make the policy any wiser.

HA writes:

We shouldn't have to wonder if a thinker approves of denying half the population the right to have children.

Given that, I assume you likewise would have found nothing improper with demanding that Americans opinion-makers on the left expressly clarify their views on Communism and their affiliations to it. For that matter, you would presumably see nothing wrong with those who write about Islam being called upon to expressly disavow terrorist activities committed by Muslims for the sake of jihad.

Be sure to answer those points directly, as well as any others that I might come up with in the future -– after all, we shouldn’t have to wonder.

William Wright writes:

Except if America had kept to only those 17th century settlers and their descendents, it would be a sad, insignificant shadow of what it is today.

You have no theoretical or empirical basis for that claim. To the contrary, theory and facts strongly support the claim that the US would be vastly superior if "America had kept to only those 17th century settlers and their descendents".

Moreover, why is the well-being of "America" of concern to you (or anyone)? The well-being of Americans is what matters, and replacing Americans with foreigners is never good for them.

KThomas writes:

I need to second Chuck Dave's sentiment. As the son of Indian immigrants, I too find the very notion of open borders to be spine-chilling. Sailers "Citizenist" views is honestly the first philosophy that I can relate to, despite its overall political nonexistence. I could never understand either the American left-wing or right-wing, simply because both were globalist/universalist in nature. It was just foreign to me. A party founded on an America-first principle, however, is something I can get behind.

With all that said, I dont think open borders is something sensible people have to fear, especially after Caplan's abysmal performance in his Intelligence Squared debate. By the end, he managed to turn the 1/3 undecided completely against him. And as Americans in general have never been exposed to it, I have confidence that they will have the same exact visceral reaction to open borders proponents. I also seem to recall Caplan being a sore loser after the debate last year, and would go as far as to say that his continuing obsession with Sailer springs from him still petulantly nursing a grudge. Its not Sailers fault that most Americans, and most people on the planet for that matter, think like him rather than Caplan.

Paul137 writes:

In response to Crawfurdmuir's excellent comment, I'd like to add that the famous statue that sits in New York's harbor is actually named "Liberty Enlightening the World" and that **it has NOTHING to do with immigration**. There's a good article about this by, surprisingly to me, Roberto Suro in the WaPo a few Independence Days ago: http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/07/02/AR2009070201737_pf.html

[Sorry, I dunno how to make that link live.]

In response to Tom West's remark about assimilation, it's important to note that the Great Pause (1924 to ~1970) after the Great Wave (~1880 to 1924) was essential for the assimilation of the Great Wave's immigrants. Assimilation of the immigrants of the Greater Wave (from ~1970 on) absolutely isn't happening for a large fraction of those coming. (e.g. Why are ballots in a host of languages other than English mandated by law in many jurisdictions?)

Kenneth A. Regas writes:

@ Simon

"I understand that this is what they do. What I was asking is what does the American citizenist think that they should do?"

Did I really fail to communicate because of my choice of verb tense? Sigh. I think that Japan should manage its borders in favor of Japanese citizens, just as I think that the US should manage our (yes, I'm an American) borders in favor of our citizens, within the constraints of garden-variety morality. And no, I'll not explain why my views are not equivalent to Heinrich Himmler's. Been there. Done that.

"Why does the American citizenist imagine themself a Japanese citizen? Why not advocate open borders toward American citizens? There are many Americans who want to live and work in Japan."

I don't imagine myself a Japanese citizen. Is the idea of reciprocal rights - I make my calls and respect your right to make yours - so terribly obtuse? If so, I don't think I can help you.

"If not, then is citizenism actually informing your view on border policy? If your views don't change whether you are an American citizen or not, then is citizenism relevant?"

I think that citizenism describes my view as to the proper management of national borders, regardless of whose. Kinda like how open borders viewpoint describes another view.

Ken

AppSocRes writes:

The kind of rational immigration policy that Steve Sailer clearly favors -- allowing immigration for only those immigrants who will enhance the quality of life for current US citizens (as Putnam has amply demonstrated just increasing "diversity" has the reverse effect) -- is identical to the philosophy that obviously underlies Canada's current immigration policy. For those unfamiliar with that policy, Canada grants points for positive immigrant traits, e.g., fluency in French and/or English and high levels of education, and subtracts them for negative traits, e.g., criminal or terrorist history, and admits only those who have accrued a fairly high number of points. Certain VERY limited exceptions are made, e.g., for humanitarian reasons. I and most other crazy, right-wing, nazi fanatic, immigration reformers I know of would be more than happy if this country replaced its current insane immigration policy with Canada's much more rational one. I believe Steve Sailer has gone on record with a position somewhat like this. Are you and those sympathetic to your critique suggesting that our neighbor to the north is some kind of fascist eugenic state?

Director 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.]

Carlos writes:

As a US citizen of Hispanic ancestry, I side with Mr. Sailer. While having children is a right, it is also a responsibility that for half a century has been foisted upon the taxpayer. I would recommend that those who are unable to provide for themselves and their current dependents, should, in exchange for being on the public support system, submit to no additional offspring until they are able to provide for them. Given our current welfare scheme, we are rewarding practices that have destroyed the social fabric of "family" by rewarding single head of household parents who continue to have children after proving they are unable to provide for those they already have. We are funding the reproduction of the worst qualities in our society and those are the ones being reproduced in their offspring at the highest rates.
I'm also in agreement with Sailer on immigration. Why import low skill persons of social backgrounds who not only won't fit in, but will instill conflict with their view of the world? Why not send those muslim refugees to muslim countries? Qatar and Saudi Arabia can economically handle some of these persons. Will someone ask Mexico's president why don't they work for their citizens welfare as hard and long when they are in Mexico as when they are here? And why does that country have about 50 consulates? Do they really have that much business with our States? Poll after poll shows that Americans want less immigration and none from poor or combative areas. Sailer is just saying what most of America is thinking.

slumber_j writes:

First of all, I wish people (including Mr. Caplan) would stop saying "scary" when they mean something like "objectionable to me." It's not only obviously disingenuous but also obnoxious, and it doesn't tend to make me want to take the author's arguments seriously.

Second, one should really try to avoid using "antinomian" and "draconian" in the same sentence--unless of course it happens to be Vocabulary Day in the Fourth Grade. Strive for euphony!

Further to this point: the word you want instead of "humorous" is "funny." I'd be happy to explain why that's so, but I shouldn't have to.

Finally, as long as we're asking Mr. Sailer for limits on his position, what are the limits on being nice to strangers? Do they all get to live in your house, for example, or sleep with your wife? I'm guessing not, but how far out do the boundaries extend, if not to national borders?

Thanks.

Brutusale writes:

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

Finch writes:

Bostonian has made some great points sprinkled throughout this thread. As a society we heavily penalize moderate- and high- earners who want to have children, and we should fix that.

I'd also like to second AppSocRes above. Canada's system of legal immigration, while far from perfect, is much superior to America's system of legal immigration. Adopting it would be a marked improvement here. I would caveat that Canada's avoidance of a major problem with illegal immigration has more to do with geography than with their system of legal immigration.

hruodland writes:

@ Simon

What's the mystery? The world works better, or so some of us think, if there are a variety of subordinate groups that have enough coherence to look after themselves rather than one big universal structure that looks out for the whole and nothing else.

One such group is the family. People in families generally accept that each family is most concerned with the interest and well-being of family members. That principle is of course subject to the rule of general morality that says that the Smiths shouldn't murder the Joneses whenever they think it will be to their advantage.

Another such group is the business enterprise. People who accept free enterprise generally think it's OK for business A mostly to look out for itself and its investors and employees rather than trying to aid the bottom line of business B. That doesn't mean they think it's OK for business A to firebomb business B.

Still another is the nation. Why does the stuff about veil of ignorance or imagining yourself a member of the other group more of an issue in this case than the others?

Michael Waldman writes:

This is so beneath you, Bryan. What position, when taken to an extreme, isn't brutal and terrible? You call his ideas "scary" - well, people who call other ideas scary often support censorship, or worse. Do you want to kill Steve Sailer? You don't explicitly deny it, and you shouldn't leave it to our imagination just how far you want to go to stop his scary ideas.

I could go on, but this is silly and too easy. What happened to taking a charitable view of those who disagree?

WJ writes:

Tom West writes: Except if America had kept to only those 17th century settlers and their descendents, it would be a sad, insignificant shadow of what it is today.

Are you suggesting that the original British/Northwest European settlers did not have the intellectual goods to make this country as good as or better than it is today? Or are you suggesting that an America with 200 million people (which population it had within recent memory) is not as good as an America with 320 million?


West writes further: How do we know that catering to a similar sentiment today isn't an equally big mistake?

How do we know that Israel - by denying a refuge to millions of Eritrean, Somali, and Syrian refugees - isn't preventing itself from the sunlit uplands of that glorious city on a hill where the wretched refuse may endeavor to enjoy per capita income ten times that which Israel has achieved at present? Also, how do we know that by refusing to stick his finger in a light socket, Mr. Tom West isn't preventing himself from becoming the next Marvel superhero?

We know neither, do we? Yet experience may allow us to make, shall we say, certain reasonable assumptions.

As to the question of what horrific policies Sailer would support in the name of citizenism, one need only ask: how do citizenists feel about other countries adopting citizenist policies? My experience reading Sailer and similar blogs is that both he and his commenters strongly support citizenist policies by any country (Japan, Denmark, Switzerland, Israel, etc.) and only object in the case of obvious, blatant hypocrisy - i.e., Jews (e.g., Sheldon Adelson) who support open borders for Western countries where Jews are a tiny minority but who oppose it for Israel, where "undocumented workers" are referred to as "illegal infiltrators" and where the head of government does not routinely wax poetic about how "family values don't stop at the Sinai."

Brett Stevens writes:

[Comment removed for irrelevance.--Econlib Ed.]

Brett Stevens writes:

Why shouldn't Sailer be deferential to eugenics? It matches several of his stated policy goals, which include avoiding "Idiocracy."

Most fears of eugenics are unfounded:

As anyone who has raised animals or maintained a garden knows, some are stronger specimens than others. These are the ones you want to breed to improve overall quality.

The liberal notion of egalitarianism clashes with this with its view that people are each special snowflakes and all are important. The reality shows us that this produces a disaster where the crass, idiotic and criminal prevail over higher types.

Some fears are founded:

Eugenics as administered by government seems like a bureaucratic disaster.

The Nazis extended their eugenic program past its workable point [which was] Aktion T4 (retards) and its sterilization of criminals and perverts, and confused it with another doctrine, which is nationalism. We wouldn’t demonize them today if they’d simply deported Jews, Gypsys, et al. to their native lands and relegated homosexuals to a German version of Christopher Street.

The natural order of humanity is that the best rise, the bad are banished, and the mediocre get no help. This is compatible with both natural selection and common sense.

State-administered policy, however, is probably incompatible with both.

Sailer is clearly a nationalist who states a preference for non-state-authority methods of achieving this. Further, he has spoken of related HBD topics such as lowered average IQ, the failure of the Flynn effect and other signs of biological degeneration of the human race.

Eugenics is perfectly compatible with what Sailer writes about on a regular basis.

Hot Sauce writes:

"Open Borders would represent the state in effect going to war against American families."

Steve Sailer, you call this statement one of your "moderate" positions???

NZ writes:

@Hot Sauce:

Open Borders is an extreme position. Its implications are extreme. Pointing this out does not make one an extremist.

WJ writes:

Sailer: "Open Borders would represent the state in effect going to war against American families."

Hout Sauce: "Steve Sailer, you call this statement one of your "moderate" positions???"

In what way is his statement immoderate? Open borders aggressively favors the owners of capital and those billions of people who live in poor countries, and harms those who live here. Yes, it would be effectively the same as a war against Americans.

With true open borders we would quickly get hundreds of millions of new people from Latin America, Africa, and Asia. But what would Americans gain from open borders, even if the right to migrate was reciprocal? I don't want to live in Somalia, Bangladesh, Haiti, or Albania, nor does any other American.

Having complete open borders is the equivalent of opening all the doors and windows in your house - very rapidly the temperature inside would equal the temperature outside. People would pour into this country until it is little or no better than the very worst country on earth - and that is a very long way to fall.

The one government policy libertarians zealously and fanatically defend is the preservation of private property. Well, a nation is a form of property - not the same as a home or business, but a form of property nonetheless. Modern, Western democracies control very large shares of their nations' assets - parks, forests, water rights, fisheries, mineral rights, roads, schools, military assets, ad infinitum - and would do so even under the most conservative governments imaginable. Investments in infrastructure and long-term preservation of natural resources, like fisheries, are aboslutely essential to the long-term prosperity of a nation, but with open borders you will rapidly have neither.

These assets have been acquired, built, and defended with the blood and labor of the citizenry. They are to be managed and used for the benefit of the citizens. If a citizen has no special right to live in his country, then he is being denied the right to his property and, as time goes on, he will make no special effort to either defend or improve it. That is the libertarian nirvana Caplan, Cato, et al would have us live in. For some strange reason, no one on earth has chosen to live in such a place, nor would I.

WJ writes:

[Comment removed for irrelevance. Please see your email.--Econlib Ed.]

WJ writes:

Caplan: "With this context in mind, consider Steve's reaction to my Eugenic Experiment post. Does he explicitly advocate denying people with below-median income the right to have children?"

Any regular reader of Sailer's blog - and I have been reading it now for 7 years or more - would recognize that he has never indicated support for policies like forced sterilization, forced abortions, etc. He would probably be far more horrified by such policies than open borders CATO libertarians, who are often quite supportive of groups like Planned Parenthood, etc.

What Sailer seems to support is a eugenic immigration policy (i.e., fewer immigrants from Third World countries, from groups who tend to do poorly here) and welfare policies that don't subsidize welfare cases for having more children. Neither policy amounts to anything like forced sterilization. To the contrary, reducing unskilled immigration would be a great help to poor *Americans*, and that has been one of Steve's primary arguments for doing so.

He does not have to waste his time explaining in great detail why his philosophy doesn't support the parade of horribles you suggest it would. If you can find anything in his copious writings suggesting otherwise, you let us know.

been there done that writes:

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Mike Steinberg writes:

As Lee Kuan Yew has noted, policy makers should be aware of reality. A policy maker should have a basic idea of the downstream consequences/effects. They're not going to be operating in a vacuum, there will be various interests/rights involved which constrain extreme actions. They should be aware of the marginal effects though.

Economist Eric Crampton had a suggestion in relation to attaching contraception as a condition of welfare. Crampton wrote, in part:

"Some of the Kiwi Twitteratti worry whether there's a slippery slope towards stronger forms of encouragement for long term contraception use for women on benefits. They could be right. But, would that kind of requirement be coercive?

Receipt of various benefits already comes with a laundry list of conditions. If you're getting the accommodation supplement, you have to report family income. That gives some people incentive either to hide that they're living with their partner or, worse, to have one partner leave. Here's one list of the requirements around disclosing to Work and Income whether you're "in a relationship for income assistance purposes". Is it coercive that, if you care about being truthful, you may be forced (in the (5) sense) to avoid entering into a relationship? Whatever the costs of coercion in those cases, they seem outweighed by the ability better to target benefits to those most in need.

I have a hard time seeing how adding contraception as condition of receipt of benefit is different in kind from the other forms of coercion that already surround receipt of welfare payments. People still choose whether to accept the bundle of restrictions and payments. The exchange fails to be Euvoluntary as (5) is definitely violated. But (5) is pretty likely to be violated if any conditions are attached to welfare receipt."

http://offsettingbehaviour.blogspot.co.nz/2012/08/coercion-everywhere-welfare-edition.html

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