Bryan Caplan  

The Universal Citizenist

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In the past, I've argued that Steve Sailer's citizenism is a moral travesty.  Advancing the interests of your in-group should always play second fiddle to respecting the rights of out-groups.  But recently, he presented what sounds like a universal argument for citizenism:
We live in a world of about 200 countries, a world that for all its flaws, is relatively peaceful and prosperous. And the basis of that order has been a set of assumptions about what the purpose of government is that both Caplan and myself call citizenism... The difference between Caplan and me is merely that he wants to take this order based on citizenism and blow it up, while I don't.
Charitably interpreted, Sailer's saying something like: "Citizenism isn't just great for us; it's great for mankind.  Vigorous pursuit of national self-interest leads to great global outcomes."  An interesting claim, but is there any reason to believe it?  Steve's only argument seems to be that (a) most countries on earth rest on citizenist principles, and (b) the modern world is, by historical standards, awesome. 

This argument is painfully weak.  Citizenism is hardly a recent ideological development.  Appeals to the moral ideal of national self-interest have been around for as long as the nation-state itself.  Recall Cicero's maxim, "Let the good of the people be the supreme law" ("Salus populi suprema lex esto").  What's novel about the modern world is precisely that aggressive pursuit of national self-interest is finally widely recognized as a vice, not virtue.  Putin's policies are bad for Russians, but we condemn them primarily because they're bad for Ukrainians.

You could object, "Due to comparative advantage and blowback, bellicose nationalism is actually contrary to national self-interest.  The best way for countries to help their own people is the path of trade and peace."  A fair point, but not one that citizenists have ever emphasized.  Psychologically, the wonders of trade and peace are easier for tolerant cosmopolitans to internalize.  I've yet to meet an open-borders citizenist - or even a citizenist intrigued by the prospect of using keyhole solutions to redistribute the astronomical benefits of immigration from foreigners to natives. 

In any case, the harmony between national self-interest and civilized policies is far from perfect.  Bellicose nationalism occasionally pays.  In a citizenist world, countries would self-righteously harm foreigners each and every time such callousness genuinely advanced the national interest.  Not a pretty picture.  It would be like living in a world where everyone steals whenever they know they can get away with it.

If citizenism can't possibly deserve credit for the awesomeness of the modern world, what does?  Distinctively modern ideas - ideas like tolerance and cosmopolitanism.  This isn't rocket science.  When people idealize patriotic solidarity, they build repressive, inward-looking societies.  When they idealize cosmopolitan tolerance, they build live-and-let-live, outward-looking societies.  Sure, no country fully lives up to these ideals.  What's special about the modern world is that the influence of these modern ideals is noticeable.

Contrary to Sailer, I deeply appreciate the modern world - probably more than he does.  But the world now enjoys historically unprecedented peace and prosperity despite citizenism, not because of it.  The modern world exists because cosmopolitan tolerance finally loosened citizenism's time-honored cultural stranglehold.  But there's still plenty of room for greater peace and prosperity.  The sooner cosmopolitan tolerance fully triumphs, the sooner we'll get them.


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COMMENTS (53 to date)
MikeDC writes:

You're both wrong. Citizenism follows logically from a contractarian view of rights.

That is, we can only have any rights at all to the extent we agree with our fellows to mutually recognize and defend them.

Thus, Sailer is right that we should hold the interest of citizens ahead of non-citizens.

You are wrong because you conflate the interests of fellow citizens with "national self-interest". That's an obvious fallacy of aggregation, and I'd regard it as a very common one, but still a flaw.

And because you're not just paying for defense services, for example, from fellow Americans. You're recognizing rights in others and they're recognizing your rights. That's a non-quantifiable trade to some extent, but it's what's going on between citizens. And its why their opinions should count for something, even if it's not your own.

And, my observation is that keyhole solutions would be extremely popular with most immigration opponents if considered in isolation.

Considered in practice, however, they appear just as unlikely as any of the myriad of other obviously better policies we fail to enact (e.g. NGDPLT targeting, progressive consumption taxation, etc). Propose any of them at a cocktail party not filled with libertarian academics and you'll get blank stares. Or worse.

However, Sailer is wrong and you are right that cosmopolitan tolerance is the way to go. But, as I see it, citizenism can be a source of cosmopolitan tolerance, not a competing force.

That is, creation and maintenance of an active political society, in which people agree upon and defend each others' rights, is itself an act of tolerance. Really, it's a foundation for tolerance; our rights extend at the forbearance of others.

Thus, we owe something to that society when it comes to admitting new members. Are we admitting people who are going to improve on that foundation? Do the current members object in large numbers?

If they do, even if I find their objections unreasonable, the moral answer is to persuade them, not overpower them.

Matt H writes:

I feel like I keep having to explain this over and over again.

The moral concept brian is missing is called partiality, it's fundamental to working societies, and follows from evolution. That feeling of special obligation to others in your family, tribe or nation, has costs, but it also has benefits.

Consider fighting ebola, going to Africa to help fight this plague is not rational for any individual, but it's necessary to protect the nation as a whole. We are sending troops there now, and the chance of contracting the disease and dying is pretty high. So how do we get people to sacrifice themselves for the greater good. Perhaps the great benefits of their sacrifice to the African natives could convince them its the moral thing to do, this is the essence of Brian's argument for open boarders, and it's laughable.

No we need some other unifying principle, perhaps the benefits to the people back home, like your friends and family, whom you owe special obligations to, and who won't die if you are successful, might be a good motivating factor.

The more, cosmopolitan our values the less we are able to deal with these collective problems that require sacrifice. Open boarders means things like ebola never get controlled. It might already be too late, Clever sillies like Brian might just kill us all.

Ross Levatter writes:

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Urstoff writes:

Of course there is going to be partiality; I don't think Bryan is advocating not helping family, friends, or your local school district because you could be spending that time making money and then donating it to a charity in Africa. Rather, that beyond the immediate locale (neighborhood, part of city), partiality makes no sense and starts to cause serious problems. It's nationalism, not filial partiality, that is the problem.

Hugh writes:

This is a deeply, deeply, muddled post.

You start off by attributing (in quotes!) a declaration to Steve Sailer that is the fruit of your troubled imagination. You then spend a couple of paragraphs attacking this imaginary foe.

You assume that citizenists are bellicose and wish to attack other nations, but if you read Sailer's blog posts you will see that he is to the anti-interventionist side of the spectrum as far as US foreign policy is concerned.

You first note that citizenism is the prevailing philosophy in the world, and that it has been for centuries. You then state that the world's "awesomeness" is in fact due to cosmopolitan tolerance, a new term that you picked off from the internet, and that hasn't been around long enough to have any effect on anything outside of the GMU campus.

This is an F-grade post. Your remedial work is to study the complete opus of Mr. Sailer with special emphasis on his beliefs concerning golf course design.

Carl writes:
Advancing the interests of your in-group should always play second fiddle to respecting the rights of out-groups.

This is all well and good but citizenists clearly disagree with Bryan as to what "the rights of out-groups" actually are.


One of the saddest things for intelligent people following Bryan's post's on tolerance and cosmopolitan attitudes is reading the comments section afterward.

People who agree with you = intelligent. Cheer up, guy!

Matt H writes:

Urstoff, You wrote:

Rather, that beyond the immediate locale (neighborhood, part of city), partiality makes no sense and starts to cause serious problems. It's nationalism, not filial partiality, that is the problem.

The point of my post is that you can't have filial partiality without other the other kind of partiality. It's the same phenomena, only at different scales, and it's part of being human. You need to work with it, not against it.

Partiality is only one part of what it means to be moral, and thus you have citizenists like Steve who are also non-interventionist. Because, taking care of your own isn't the only principle that maters.

Human morality is a complex web of innate instincts that often compete and contradict. How we weigh each precept changes by culture and time. Liberals and libertarians who deny all instincts except harm and fairness are at a huge disadvantage in persuading normal humans.

MikeDC writes:
This is all well and good but citizenists clearly disagree with Bryan as to what "the rights of out-groups" actually are.

I see the bigger disagreement as over the rights of the in-group. Bryan's noble sentiments could be reversed and be equally noble as:

Advancing the interests of out-groups should play second fiddle to respecting the rights of your in-group.

Because the rights and obligations we've established among the in-group go beyond the merely the rights and obligations we've established between ourselves and the outgroups.

Damien writes:

It's good to note that Cicero was not a pure citizenist according to how Bryan understands this term. It has been argued (http://philosophy.uchicago.edu/faculty/files/nussbaum/Duties%20of%20Justice,%20Duties%20of%20Material%20Aid.pdf) that he made a clear distinction between duties of justice (e.g. not killing people, not torturing them, not stealing their property), which were valid even across borders, and duties of material aid, which could be restricted to people close to us, especially if it meant making some sort of sacrifice. You should probably give directions to people, but you don't have to feed foreigners.

This sounds a lot like what most "common-sense" citizenists would say and why they don't see themselves as little Himmlers: sure, we can't kill foreigners or torture them (duties of justice), but we're also not obligated to transfer some of our resources to them (duty of material aid -- libertarians would usually go further and say that it applies to ALL strangers, not just foreigners).

So, setting aside economic facts which IMO support open borders, the crux of the question is whether open borders are a duty of justice (as I suppose Bryan would argue) or a duty of material aid (as found in the idea that open borders is incompatible with the welfare state because it inevitably leads to a transfer of resources to foreigners, or that foreigners exert a downward pressure on wages).

By the standards of his time, Cicero was also probably a Cosmopolitan of sorts. Not only because he recognized that other nations had rights, but also because I doubt that the average Latin peasant had a strong sense of national identity. Until quite recently (18th-19th century), people did not usually see themselves as citizens of a nation-state but as members of a local community. Telling people that they are Romans and have duties toward fellow Romans would have been an improvement. 1800 years later, convincing Frenchmen that this is what they were was also an improvement of sorts. And did the Romans have immigration restrictions? I've never read about ancient people having to apply for visas.

Roger Sweeny writes:

I see Steve Sailor's argument as similar to the argument for property. It sure sounds nice to say,

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

but in practice, it doesn't work. In fact, prosperity and peace require property; they requires "people to be secure in their houses, papers, and effects" (to take out of context the 4th Amendment).

You can say that property has nothing to do with the awesomeness of the modern world because there has always been property but that is simply wrong.

There are all sorts of bad outcomes to citizenism. The question is, as the question always is, "what are the really possible alternatives?" I suspect he would say that the alternative to citizenism is closer to Hobbes than Lennon.

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

SJ writes:
In a citizenist world, countries would self-righteously harm foreigners each and every time such callousness genuinely advanced the national interest.

You can assign a higher priority to the needs of people closer to you without harming other people.

One parent might pay for his own kid's private school tuition, but not for the tuition of the neighbor's kid down the street. Another parent might steal money from the neighbor's safe to pay for his own kid's tuition. Citizenism is analogous to the first case, not the second.

This distinction has been pointed out in past comments ad nauseam.

Thomas writes:
Advancing the interests of your in-group should always play second fiddle to respecting the rights of out-groups.

What I want to know is this: Who is Bryan Caplan to dictate the preferences of others? I invite him (or anyone) to give me a good reason why I should place the welfare of, say, anti-American Muslims in the Middle East or underage "immigrants" from Central America above the welfare of my grandchildren.

Steve J writes:

So the gist of the comments appear to be telling me I am free to hire the best person for a job as long as that person is a citizen of my country. Thanks guys for all of my "freedom".

Dan W. writes:

@Steve J.

You have the freedom to hire anyone in the world for you job (well anywhere except Cuba or North Korea). The person just can't perform that job in the US without government approval. I don't think YOUR freedom is shackled very much at all by this law, especially compared to the myriad of other laws that dictate the work you can do and how you must do it.

If Caplan wishes to promote "Open Borders" he needs to spend a lot more effort explaining the policy. Otherwise he is simply mouthing platitudes and engaging in philosophizing.

MikeP writes:

One parent might pay for his own kid's private school tuition, but not for the tuition of the neighbor's kid down the street. Another parent might steal money from the neighbor's safe to pay for his own kid's tuition. Citizenism is analogous to the first case, not the second.

This is about as confused as it can get. Perhaps analogies trying to elucidate the behavior of tens of millions of people shouldn't be based on what goes on inside a house.

But an analogy is still salvageable based on the street: Citizenism is prohibiting someone from living on your street because he is not a citizen.

As an abrogation of the noncitizen's right to property, citizenism is much closer to your second case than the first.

Massimo writes:
Advancing the interests of your in-group should always play second fiddle to respecting the rights of out-groups.

The "right" of one person is always the inverse of another person's "right". Deciding which "right" gets precedence is a judgement call that built into laws.

Caplan's core claim is that the right of a foreigner to freely immigrate gets absolute precedence over the inverse right of the citizen to exclude. Open borders is a very simple logical corollary to this.

Caplan debates the logical corollary piece but avoids debating the core value judgment it is based on which is where the real disagreement is. Sailer and others assert that citizens do have a legitimate right to exclude and that takes precedence over the right of a foreigner to freely immigrate.

In the case of family, Caplan reverses his judgement: The parent's right to exclude other children from his household and family structure gets precedence over the right of the foreign child from entering his family and living by the same rules as other family members. Caplan has justified this by saying he is biologically wired to do so. This is a spurious and subjective exemption and the complete reversal of right precedence has no logic or consistency. I don't logically understand how a parent can love some children and raise them in this fabulous household structure and have the right to exclude other children from the same experience for any reason whatsoever, yet the judgements are completely reversed when it comes to larger cities/states/nations.

MikeP writes:

The "right" of one person is always the inverse of another person's "right".

How can this be at all true?

I have a right to have cereal this morning. What other person's right is this the inverse of?

SJ writes:
This is about as confused as it can get. Perhaps analogies trying to elucidate the behavior of tens of millions of people shouldn't be based on what goes on inside a house.

But an analogy is still salvageable based on the street: Citizenism is prohibiting someone from living on your street because he is not a citizen.

As an abrogation of the noncitizen's right to property, citizenism is much closer to your second case than the first.


Libertarian arguments that immigration restrictions "harm" foreigners are based on the premise that foreigners have a "right" to unrestricted entry. Other people disagree with that. This is the key disagreement, and though it's not dispositive, it's at least interesting to note that libertarians are way in the minority on this.

I suggest that libertarians spend less time describing the horrible things that happen when the "right to immigrate" is infringed, and more time proving that such a right actually exists.

That wasn't really the point of my earlier comment, though. Caplan wrote that citizenists would do anything whatever to foreigners if it would benefit the native population. That's a gross distortion of the argument, and what's sad is that Caplan knows it. Steve Sailer has directly disavowed this, including on this site, but I guess it's more fun to argue with a straw man.

Massimo writes:
The "right" of one person is always the inverse of another person's "right".

How can this be at all true?

I have a right to have cereal this morning. What other person's right is this the inverse of?

This is textbook legal philosophy, it's not something I made up. And it's absolutely true, people just aren't used to thinking in such terms.

Your right to eat cereal in the morning is the inverse of other people's right to eat it instead of you. Your right to own food, property, or land is the inverse of the right of others to use it. Western society is built on property/land ownership rights, but those values are completely foreign to some tribal societies.

Additionally, your right to eat cereal is the inverse of the right of someone else to tell you what you can and can't eat for breakfast. This probably sounds silly at first, but the right of the FDA to tell people to not eat/sell certain foods deemed a health risk overrides the right of individuals to do so. And in certain religious cultures, the right of the religious leaders to forbid eating pork/beef/etc takes precedence over the right of individuals to do so.

MikeP writes:

Massimo,

Just say "might makes right" and be done with it.

Steve J writes:

@Dan,

I must say the reasoning in this particular column may be beyond what I am willing to wade through. But I generally agree with the idea people should be able to live/work where they please. The policy specifics to make that idea practical must be figured out. It surprises that many commenters seem against general libertarian principles.

Reason writes:

This, from Sailer's article is a dangerous premise: "Immigration policy, by its very nature, is about discriminating, about selecting whom we should admit and whom we should keep out. It is one of the fundamental responsibilities of our elected representatives because if they don’t decide, inevitably some private interest is going to decide who gets in"

That he would trust elected officials and central planning to make the best decisions about immigration over private interests (or, shall we say, the interests of the people whom the government is supposed to represent), is alarming to me. Sailer, writing for the 'American Conservative' is advocating massive government power and implies that politicians have a fundamental ownership right over access to the U.S.

To the commenter who had difficulty reconciling Caplan's view that parents may exclude other children from their household: that view derives from the property right of the parents over their household. Property rights include the right to limit access, so the parents are well within their rights to do so, contrary to politicians who do not own the U.S.

MikeP writes:

Libertarian arguments that immigration restrictions "harm" foreigners are based on the premise that foreigners have a "right" to unrestricted entry. Other people disagree with that.

Indeed, that is a central disagreement and probably the greatest single correlate with my understanding of citizenism.

Caplan wrote that citizenists would do anything whatever to foreigners if it would benefit the native population.

Yes, I noticed that too. It's a very unfortunate statement, both uncharitable and wrong. It does not at all recognize that citizenists recognize tradeoffs between how much or at what boundary they favor citizens and how much they harm foreigners.

trent steele writes:

The thing that gets me about Caplan's position on this matter is that it's so Statist.

I mean, open borders assumes/requires socialized ownership of the borders and land within, and government control over those borders. If all the land was owned privately, wouldn't Sailer and Caplan ... what would they have to say about it?

Is Caplan against private property? Or shouldn't his argument be that: all land should be privately owned and people should be cosmopolitan for their own good, i.e., allow the highest bidder to rent or buy, but without regard to nationality.

It seems to me that Sailer's viewpoint is the only one consistent with private property. If people/"citizens" don't want people moving in, then they don't have to sell/rent to them. But if they own their property and they do let others move in, Sailer wouldn't have a moral right to stop them. Caplan's view implies a State controlling borders and owning property on which to house immigrants. If we had private property and people allowed foreigners to move in then what could Sailer say?

Caplan arguing for "open borders" assumes that the State owns them. What's the deal with that? Shouldn't he be arguing against that and for private property, and then persuading people to be cosmopolitan, rather than hoping to turn the State's guns on those promoting "citizenism" or whatever?

MikeP writes:

But if they own their property and they do let others move in, Sailer wouldn't have a moral right to stop them.

I do own my property. And I want to house and employ foreigners on and with it.

So Sailer has no moral right to stop me.

Was that your point?

The Anti-Gnostic writes:

Sailer, writing for the 'American Conservative' is advocating massive government power and implies that politicians have a fundamental ownership right over access to the U.S.

The borders belong to private property owners, and otherwise to the taxpayers. This is the real world, not a libertarian thought experiment. I submit that the US government is far more permissive about who has access to American soil than if immigration was purely a matter of contract. In a private property regime, there would be no immigrants; there would only be owners, tenants and trespassers. No due process, public roads, civil rights or welfare to grease the skids for your cheap labor/cellphone customer base either.

Bryan is making a strawman argument. We can favor our own interests and those of our in-group without diminishing other's rights. Bryan surely doesn't lose any sleep over the fact that he spends more money on his own family's welfare than mine, for example.

The libertarians' complaint is really not about rights of the Other so much as they just do not consider other, less cosmopolitan Americans as part of their in-group. Immigrants lower wages and living standards for people outside Bryan's Bubble, over the wishes of consistent majorities in opinion polls. But people in Bryan's Bubble are his in-group, so he doesn't share outsiders' concerns, even though it's their loyalty to the American charter that make his Bubble possible.

Massimo writes:
To the commenter who had difficulty reconciling Caplan's view that parents may exclude other children from their household: that view derives from the property right of the parents over their household. Property rights include the right to limit access, so the parents are well within their rights to do so, contrary to politicians who do not own the U.S.

By the same property rights logic, citizens can claim property ownership of the nation and justify their right to exclude foreigners from citizenship.

Secondly, today's society has a limited form of property rights with all kinds of exceptions. Taxes and government spending programs are a giant exception. You're right of ownership is limited by the rights of other people to have food, housing, education, health care, and a military. Citizens aren't allowed to pool money and form a school system that they own and can exclude others from.

There is no definitive libertarian take on immigration. Many champion the open borders freedom to immigrate view as libertarian, but you could equally say that citizens own their nation and the freedom of citizens to exclude is the authentic libertarian perspective.

MikeP writes:

By the same property rights logic, citizens can claim property ownership of the nation and justify their right to exclude foreigners from citizenship.

Apart from the many other differences between property held by a private party and territory claimed by a state, one key distinction relevant here is that the territory contains the property.

If we allow the assertion that a nation's territory is the citizens' property, then that property interest overrules the property interest of the private party. The private party is no more than a tenant who can legally exercise only the subset of property rights the landlord chooses to let him have.

Not very libertarian. And not at all "the same property rights logic".

annie writes:

The idea of open borders put forth here and debated in the comments seems based primarily on going from one country to another for economic purposes only.

While I wouldn't argue that some people emigrate for financial reasons, no one is addressing the issues that arise when people migrate for personal reasons and put down permanent roots in a country where they were not born.

Education, travel and adventure motivate just as many wanderers, who often find themselves marrying and starting families with citizens of the countries they've journeyed to.

Currently every country has its own set of rules for acquiring status. Some more onerous than others.

But in opening the borders, what happens when people decline to cross back to where they originated? Take on new citizenships? Seek to shed birth status?

Many countries have simple processes for shedding and reacquiring but some do not.

The United States, as an example, makes divesting oneself of citizenship (or even greencard status) quite difficult and very expensive.

I can't recall the British writer/philosopher who put forth the idea but poorly paraphrased, it went something like this:

Citizenship is a spiritual thing.

Open Borders appears to be premised mainly on consumer lines, and while that's an important consideration, I think it misses the mark. People migrate and resettle for reasons that go beyond paying bills and attachment to a particular land, culture and people is as much a matter of finding a "home" than locating the best spot on the planet to be useful and productive.

trent steele writes:

@MikeP
Yes, if you own your house you should be able to rent it to anyone. Sailer should not be able to stop you. Nor should Caplan, through the government, be able to force you.

Caplan's argument is Statist in that he feels it's legitimate for the US gov to "own" the US and then decide who it wants to let in and for what reason. Sailer's argument implies that people own something and others are forcing them to let unwanted persons in.

I don't think Sailer would have the right to stop his neighbor from letting anyone in to their house. But Sailer's position can be compatible with private property rights, while Caplan's is not.

Now, what you meant about employing "on and with it" is a little vague, so I'll not comment on that.

MikeP writes:

Caplan's argument is Statist in that he feels it's legitimate for the US gov to "own" the US and then decide who it wants to let in and for what reason.

I cannot speak for Caplan, but I am confident that there is no way that he believes the US government owns the US. In particular, the US cannot make ownership-style decisions of who can and cannot visit the property of individuals within the US. Only those individuals can.

I assure you it is not the open borders types who believe that the government has legitimate authority to place quotas, durations, and employment limitations on those who want to enter the US. The government should absolutely not get to decide who it wants to let in except in the case of individuals who are a threat to the population -- and that must be for specific cause applied to specific individuals. "The quota is full" is neither.

trent steele writes:

@ MikeP

If the government does not own the border, then what do you or Caplan mean by "open borders"?

My point is that you must accept the legitimacy of the government owning the borders if you want to be an "open borders" guy. As for me, I believe in private property. If the Sailers want to keep people out of their home/neighborhood (by not selling or renting to anyone but those they want, and paying the price plus reaping the perceived benefits) then they should be allowed. If the Caplans want to let anyone in their home/neighborhood, then they should be allowed.

But the Caplans should not be able to use guns to make the Sailers allow others, and the Sailers should not be allowed to use guns to prevent the Caplans.

It seems to me, though, that only Caplan's plan uses force. Now, if Sailer were advocating pushing people out of their homes by force, that would also be different. But basically it's a clusterfork because we have so much socialism in this country already that it becomes hard to parse.

Jonathan writes:

Sovereignty is not the same as ownership. The People are sovereign over the territory of the United States, but they do not own the territory, so this whole discussion of who "owns" the US borders is a red herring.

But the prerogative to exclude outsiders absolutely belongs to any sovereign entity and I am truly baffled that anyone could dispute this. I seriously don't understand what kind of ethical Bizarro World Caplan inhabits where a sovereign nation is not morally entitled to advance its own interests over the interests of foreigners and where it does not have the right to exclude foreigners from entering if it believes it will do harm to itself thereby.

And note I say "interests of foreigners", not "rights of foreigners". That is because I also believe that in a just international order, each sovereign nation respects the rights of other nations, including, oh I don't know, not invading those other nations in order to change their politics to something more agreeable. I would even agree, tentatively, that nations may have a moral obligation to harbor refugees that are experiencing persecution in their native countries. But absolutely I disagree with the idea that foreigners have a right to move to the US over the objections of the citizens simply for personal economic gain. Their personal economic interests do NOT trump the economic, political, social and cultural interests of the nation at large.

It may well be that it is in our INTERESTS to allow more foreigners to settle here, and perhaps even to allow open borders. But that is a matter for the People, through their elected representatives, to decide. They are under no moral obligation to do so.

trent steele writes:

@Jonathan

Sovereignty is not the same as ownership.

Please define. Because "supreme power and authority" sure sounds like ownership to me...

Am I not sovereign over my property? Your Red Herring is ... fishy.

MikeP writes:

Sovereignty is the positive fact that a state can do whatever it wants within its territory. It has no place in a normative argument.

In other words, sovereignty can tell us only that a nation can round up and execute everyone with an advanced degree. It doesn't tell us whether it should.

Similarly, sovereignty can tell us only that a nation can abrogate individuals' rights of travel, residence, and labor based solely on where they were born. It doesn't tell us whether it should.

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trent steele writes:

@Jonathan

So... you're averse to using the definition of words? Well then, that solves that!

But seriously, you're missing the point entirely anyway. Caplan is supposed to be an AnCap. Or at least a libertarian. What on Earth does his "open borders" argument mean in a world of private property, that is, a libertarian or AnCap world?

But getting back to your point. If you believe in "sovereignty" (especially as you've 'defined' it) then you just believe in might makes right, and so I ask, why are you discussing this instead of arming yourself or hiring mercenaries?

MikeDC writes:

I'll bite and say that sovereignty fundamentally is ownership. That's why the source (e.g. popular, royal, etc.) a government claims for its claim to ownership is important and recognition of properties (be they tangible like land or intangible like speech, thought and association) is fundamentally the only "right" we have.

That is, our right to a property can only be understood within the context of a sovereign.

We (as in "we the people") establish and guarantee more formal rights to specific properties for individuals that are part of the agreement. But by virtue of establishing the whole system over a specific area, it's obvious that "we" retain some claims over that area.

That is, properties rights are nowhere and never completely absolute while claims of sovereignty are. Hence, the residual rights must reside with the sovereign.

MikeP writes:

My point is that you must accept the legitimacy of the government owning the borders if you want to be an "open borders" guy.

This continues to be a ridiculous claim. If the borders are unowned commons, then no one can say who may or may not cross them, just as no one can say who may or may not cross an unowned field. Hence they are open borders.

What on Earth does his "open borders" argument mean in a world of private property, that is, a libertarian or AnCap world?

Taking the private property anarcho-capitalist world without loss of generality, it means that somewhere along the thousand-mile border some owner of private property will be willing, if not enthusiastic, to set up an entry point that connects to rights of way inside the country. Granted, this property owner will need to convince security authorities that he is not allowing actual threats to the population to enter the territory. But given the presumption of a functioning anarcho-capitalist society, these authorities are not going to be able to make rights-abrogating demands such as visa quotas, durations, or employment restrictions.

On the foundational premise that a properly functioning government behaves exactly like a properly functioning anarcho-capitalist society, open borders in a private property libertarian government world would find the government owning the entry points as well as being the concerned security authority. Nonetheless, it too could not legitimately prohibit entry except to protect the population from actually harmful individuals.

Milo Minderbinder writes:

Instead of having this dorm room arguments about what theoretical rights non-citizens should have, or who really owns the country, why not look at the practical effects of current policy.

The CosmoLibertarians keep insisting that than Friedman's famous maxim "You can't have free immigration and a welfare state" is false. And that immigration will actually help destroy the welfare state.

Well...

Immigrant gets Obamacare plan with $.27 (that's 27 cents!) a month premium.

http://articles.philly.com/2014-05-04/news/49611695_1_asian-immigrants-clients-plan

Somalis in Minnesota demand pork-free food bank

http://minnesota.cbslocal.com/2014/09/15/somali-group-pushes-for-non-pork-food-shelf/

Swiss town raises taxes to pay for African refugees.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2758055/Outraged-Swiss-village-1-000-residents-forced-raise-taxes-African-refugee-mother-seven-moves-costs-40-000-month-benefits.html


How's that the destruction of the welfare state working out for you?

Jonathan writes:

I still maintain that sovereignty is a distinct concept from ownership since the authority given to government over the national territory is more limited than the authority a property owner has over his own land. I believe our representative government can determine who enters our country, but not what it can do with all the land within the country, which is the prerogative of the various landowners. If I were to say the government owns the entire territory of the US, then I'd also have to say the government gets to decide how all the land is used, and it can expel anyone it does not like, regardless of citizenship status, neither of which I accept.

I suppose you could say the People, through the US government, owns the borders of the US, but not the land within the US borders, if that helps clear things up. This is clearly a much more limited understanding of ownership than a farmer who owns and controls not only the boundaries of his land, but all the land and inhabitants within it.

And I certainly agree that in some sense sovereignty is just a brute fact, not a normative statement. Whatever Caplan thinks, the fact is the US can, and does, control the borders of the US and is selective about who enters and who leaves.

But I'm very concerned about how Caplan is trying to make this an argument over rights and obligations, rather than just national interests, because the media pays attention to him and his ideas are becoming very popular among the intellectually influential, as he himself admits. Once this happens, it won't be long before some federal judge gets it into his or her skull to make open borders a "right" and overturn laws regulating the borders and residency on spurious constitutional grounds. We've seen this happen before in the culture wars, with respect to abortion and gay marriage, among others, where the democratic process has been subverted because of an intellectual fad affecting only the tiny legal elite.

MikeP writes:

But I'm very concerned about how Caplan is trying to make this an argument over rights and obligations, rather than just national interests...

There was a time when a tiny legal elite found it self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

National interests should be motivated and limited by rights. If not, what are they motivated and limited by?

Jonathan writes:

Indeed they should be limited by rights. The problem is I absolutely do not believe foreigners have a right to move to the US whenever they feel like, regardless of the feelings of US citizens. Therefore I am fighting against this idea that foreigners have this "right", since if this idea is entrenched among the intellectually powerful, they will ride roughshod over the legitimate objections of the American people and force unlimited immigration on everybody.

trent steele writes:

@ Jonathan

My apologies, I just discovered that I wrote your name when I meant MikeP (Posted September 17, 2014 9:28 PM). Very sorry for the confusion.

@ MikeP The fact that you talk about government when refuting an AnCap argument is... disturbing. As Inigo might say, "I don't think you know what that word means..." A "border" is not an abstract concept. It is the edge of the property you own. So unless you're allowed to trespass, an owner may only "open" his own border to his own property, not some "country."

Otherwise, you're just so very confused. Who is talking about some unowned land that people can walk on? Borders... border something. If it is unowned, then Sailer, Caplan, and I would all happily agree that you, MikeP, can walk all over it. That is not the point anywhere in this thread; so what is your point?
You are so confused that you write things like "to set up an entry point that connects to rights of way inside the country." Well, does that entry point to your land grant access to other people's property also? If not, then it is not a border, it's just your land. Who is arguing against that?? But if you say that "entry point" then grants them access to others' land, then you're just acting like a tyrant and begging the question: Who controls access to their own land? the owner, or the strongest thug?

Other than that, there is too much confusion in this thread about anthropomorphizing the US gov, and then giving "it" rights; and about "unowned" land being borders etc. The socialism is so thick you can't make an argument that doesn't take it as a assumption. smh

Yes, in a socialist country the party gets to decide who gets in and who doesn't, and those who control the guns make the rules. So Caplan is right if he is the strongest, and Sailer is right if he is the strongest. Is that what we're taking as a starting point in a conversation on Econlog? Oh well. SOVEREIGNTY UBER ALLES!

MikeDC writes:

@ Jonathan,

Another way to put it is that if foreigners can move to the US whenever they feel like [it], regardless of the feelings of US citizens

then

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

is no longer in effect.

Because the government that can import all the new citizens it wants (without any right of the existing citizens to block it) is utterly out of control and unaccountable to its existing polity.

zed writes:

To paraphrase: fundamental change to human nature can and should be achieved by inducing in everyone a "cosmopolitan" belief system.

Southfarthing writes:

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MikeDC writes:
To paraphrase: fundamental change to human nature can and should be achieved by inducing in everyone a "cosmopolitan" belief system.

Well, yes, if the people moving in were cosmopolitan and not the MS-13 or the gang-raping Pakistani immigrants of Rotherham then they'd be more welcome.

What? Stereotypes, you say? Isn't Bryan Caplan the guy who says (in the context in-group politics) that stereotypes are often right?

MikeP writes:

To paraphrase: fundamental change to human nature can and should be achieved by inducing in everyone a "cosmopolitan" belief system.

A century and a half ago the US had open borders. There was no fundamental change to human nature between then and now.

MikeP writes:

trent steele,

If you believe in "sovereignty" (especially as you've 'defined' it) then you just believe in might makes right...

Of course I believe in sovereignty. I also believe the sky is blue. Those are positive facts.

But my normative beliefs include that individual rights preexist and precede governments, government authority, and government sovereignty. So, no, I do not believe that might makes right. Might makes only what is, not what should be.

MikeP writes:

The fact that you talk about government when refuting an AnCap argument is... disturbing.

You asked, "What on Earth does his "open borders" argument mean in a world of private property, that is, a libertarian or AnCap world?" I took that to mean libertarian as contrasted with AnCap. If you meant libertarian as synonymous with AnCap, then please ignore the paragraph about the government.

A "border" is not an abstract concept. It is the edge of the property you own. So unless you're allowed to trespass, an owner may only "open" his own border to his own property, not some "country."

Actually, the border we are talking about is not the edge of property that anyone owns. It is the edge of the territory of the country or anarcho-capitalist society. There is no intrinsic characteristic of the border that demands it be owned or that demands that anyone has ownership rights over it.

But if you say that "entry point" then grants them access to others' land, then you're just acting like a tyrant and begging the question: Who controls access to their own land? the owner, or the strongest thug?

That entry point allows individuals access to the rights of way of the nation. Whether property owners inside the nation allow those individuals on their own land is their decision. Caplan can invite them to his land, but Sailer does not have to let them on his land. No thug or tyrant is in the picture at all.

Taking the private property anarcho-capitalist world without loss of generality, it means that somewhere along the thousand-mile border some owner of private property will be willing, if not enthusiastic, to set up an entry point that connects to rights of way inside the country.

In a private property regime, all movement off your own property would require the permission of other property owners. So when you negotiate all the access rights from Guatemala to your farm in the Napa Valley, and your berry-pickers want to go elsewhere, then they will have to negotiate easements with all your neighbors. And if your neighbors in the nearby town don't want them, tough toenails, and no "civil rights" laws to tell them otherwise.

If you want to see how this works out in practice, look at the Gulf emirates. They have plenty of immigrants, the immigrants' employers are responsible for their workforce's health insurance, their rights are what their hosts tell them they are, and the ones who step out of line are made to leave.

MikeP writes:

In a private property regime, all movement off your own property would require the permission of other property owners. So when you negotiate all the access rights from Guatemala to your farm in the Napa Valley, and your berry-pickers want to go elsewhere, then they will have to negotiate easements with all your neighbors.

Why do these individualized legal easements apply only to people from Guatemala? Wouldn't they also apply to anyone from Nevada? Or the Russian River Valley? Don't you see the practical impossibility of such a regime?

That's why we have hundreds of years of common law defining unowned rights of way. Every property unless explicitly penned in by, say, an HOA, has a right of way to larger rights of way that guarantee the ability to reach every other property not explicitly penned in.

Of course, the ability for every individual to reach a property does not mean every individual has a right to be on that property: that is up to the property owner to decide. But property rights are materially curtailed if the property owner does not have the right to have those he invites to his property to reach his property. Hence rights of way.

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