Which “Minarchy”?

I understand the appeal of minarchy. After all, it’s where I came from; what I used to advocate. Even though I knew I was an anarchist personally, I used to imagine minarchy as the most practical way to be as liberated as possible.

But minarchy– keeping a little bit of cancer around and under control to prevent a different cancer from getting a foothold– is an unsustainable Utopian fantasy. Much more so than anarchy could ever be.

And, it’s confused.

As a minarchist, which “minimal government” would you pick? Only things such as government fire protection, government policing, military, government-controlled roads, and government courts? Other minarchists might have other preferences. Some would include “securing the borders” or other Big Government welfare programs. Any version includes the “taxation” to pay for it all, along with the bureaucracy to collect and distribute the money and find and punish the opt-outs.

Does every minarchist get to impose the particular flavor of “minimal government” they want? If so, it is no longer “minimal”.

Do you use v*ting to decide which bits of government you get to impose on me? Then it’s mob rule– “might (through superior numbers) makes right”.

Through v*ting and “taxation” you’ve cut the brake line on anything holding back government growth.

As I say, I understand, but a “little bit of statism” is still evil.

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Cooperation is Libertarian

One thing I find very interesting, and a little frustrating, is how often people will try to put words in my mouth.

I guess it’s a facet of the straw man tactic.

Recently someone kept trying to say that I was against cooperation; that cooperation is against libertarian principles, so I have to be against it. Even after I explicitly said several times that I think cooperation is a great thing, and I’m completely in favor of it.

Libertarianism rejects cooperation? I’ve never made such a silly claim, nor have I ever seen anyone who understands liberty make a claim like that. It’s completely absurd.

But, because I’m opposed to stealing money to fund government or government “borders”, I must be against cooperation.

And if I am in favor of cooperation, then I must obviously see the “value” of theft and coercion in the name of government.

Yeah, I don’t get that connection either.

Government is the opposite of cooperation. If people willingly cooperate (and there’s really no such thing as non-willing cooperation) there is no need to rob them or to coerce them to do what you believe should be done. That’s not cooperation, that’s slavery.

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A Preference for Peace: Not the Same Thing as Support for the Bogeyman of the Week

I’m not ashamed to admit it: I’m a peacenik. I think war is a bad thing. I’ve seen it up close and personal as an infantryman, and I’d like to see less of it, preferably none at all, either up close or from a distance.

In part, this desire also makes me a “non-interventionist.” That is, in a world with 195 “sovereign nations,” it makes sense that the political officials in each one should mind his or her own state’s business and not try to decide who gets to run the other 194, or how they should do so.

And this, in turn, leads to scolding claims that I am “soft on”  politicians from states who happen to be at odds with the politicians from “my” country, the USA.

If I don’t want a return to Cold War with what’s left of the former Soviet Union, I’m Vladimir Putin’s puppet.

If I don’t support US sanctions on Iran, it must mean that I support whatever agenda my critic imputes to “Supreme Leader” Ali Khameni.

If I don’t support the US invasion/occupation of Syria, I’m clearly a fan of president Bashar al-Assad.

If I don’t think the US government should waste American treasure (and conceivably even American blood) trying to get Venezuelans to rally behind Juan Guiado’s “interim president” claim, it’s obvious that I want Nicolas Maduro and the Chavistas left in charge.

Well, no, not at all. Not in any of those cases, nor in any of the other places around the world where American presidents, American Congresses, and American bureaucrats continuously try to seize control of the wheel from the people who, you know, live there.

Do I have opinions about politics in Russia, Iran, Syria, Venezuela, Libya  … or, heck, Germany, Greece, Israel, Japan, North and South Korea, and so on?

Yes, I do.

Do I think that it’s the job of American taxpayers to finance, and if necessary American soldiers to compel, those foreign politicians to do the will of American politicians on pain of being replaced by new politicians who will?

No, I don’t.

Not any more than I want Xi Jinping, Emmanuel Macron, or Justin Trudeau imposing their political will on my neighbors in my country.

Nor any more than I want my next-door neighbor barging into my house and ordering me to move the furniture around and serve spaghetti for dinner.

Yes, it can be made a lot more complicated than that, and some people insist on doing so.

But yes, it’s really that simple.

I’m not a fan of the state as we know it, which has been defined since the 1648 Peace of Westphalia in terms of mutually recognized “borders” and “national sovereignty.” That model is disintegrating, and I’m hopeful that it will give way to something better.

Until it does, there are far worse ideas than the notion that politicians should limit their claims of “sovereignty” to the spaces within their own “borders,” leaving other people and other politicians to work out their own destinies.

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The Mighty Difference Between Immigration and Trade

What’s so great about international trade?  Economist’s standard answer boils down to two words: comparative advantage.  Specialization and trade increases total production, even if one side is more productive across the board.  A textbook example starts with a table that shows hourly productivity in two countries, such as the U.S. and Mexico.

Table 1: Trade and Productivity

U.S. Productivity Mexican Productivity
Cars/Hour 4 .1
Wheat/Hour 2 1


To see how specialization and trade raise TOTAL productivity, just imagine switching five U.S. hours from wheat to cars, and twenty Mexican hours from cars to wheat.  Total wheat production rises by (-5*2+20*1)=10, and total car production rises by (5*4-20*.1)=18.

When I teach the economics of immigration, I routinely tell students that immigration is trade in labor, so the same logic applies.  In fact, I just relabel the preceding table:

Table 2: Immigration and Productivity (simple version)

U.S. Productivity Mexican Productivity
Programs/Hour 4 .1
Childcares/Hour 2 1


When asked, “Sure, but what’s the point of moving the labor?,” my standard reply is: “You can’t export most services easily.  A Mexican nanny normally can’t perform childcare services for U.S. families unless she lives in the U.S.”

It’s a fine answer.  But on reflection, it deeply underestimates the economic benefits of immigration.  Why?  Well, international trade is a wonderful thing, but merely trading goods across borders has no blatant effect on the productivity of the workers who produced the goods.*  When a worker migrates from a low-productivity country to a high-productivity country, however, he becomes vastly more productive almost overnight.  To really show the economic effect of migration, then, you should imagine moving from the world of Table 2 to the world of Table 3.

Table 3: Immigration and Productivity (improved version)

U.S. Productivity Mexican Productivity
Programs/Hour 4 1
Childcares/Hour 2 2


Table 3 implies that migration raises productivity even if workers continue to use their time exactly as they did before.  Suppose you move twenty Mexican hours from Mexico to the U.S.  The workers continue to split their time evenly between programming and childcare.  Production still rises by (10*(1-.1))=9 programs and (10*(2-1))=10 childcares.  The mechanism can’t be comparative advantage, because the division of labor remains unchanged.  The world is richer, rather, because Mexican talent has moved from a production desert to a production oasis.  Once the immigrants arrive, of course, it makes great sense to specialize and trade; but immigration would have great economic benefits even if no one reconsidered his occupation.

Yes, I am well-aware that some researchers fear that immigration will transform production oases into production deserts.  My forthcoming book has a whole chapter on this topic.  The key point for now: Almost everyone – including me – has hitherto underestimated the gross economic benefits of immigration.  And until we accurately measure immigration’s gross benefits, we can’t accurately measure its net benefits, either.

* Though there could be a big non-blatant effect; see Bloom and van Reenen on the managerial benefits of multinationals.

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Addicts Can’t Think Outside Their Box

A heroin addict might not like the side effects and other consequences of being addicted to heroin, but giving up the drug is unthinkable, so they try to find ways around the consequences which don’t involve giving up heroin.

Statists don’t like some of the side effects and consequences of statism, but giving up the State is unthinkable so they try to find ways around the consequences which don’t involve giving up their drug.

Thus you have borderists screaming that you can’t get rid of government borders or you’ll have people flocking to America to get free stuff from “welfare” or committing crime. They can’t even see that they’re in a box, much less think outside it.

This utter lack of awareness illustrates my point about statism being an addiction.

No part of statism is a given. Any of it can be eliminated; all of it can be eliminated. That one part of it excuses another part doesn’t mean you have to keep either part. Ditch them both. It’s the sensible thing to do.

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Reflections from my Panama Cruise, I

I just returned from my Panama Canal cruise.  Reflections:

1. As I’ve mentioned before, cruises are in one sense a great test case for open borders.  Workers from all over the world come together to run one some of the world’s most sophisticated technology and please some of the world’s most demanding customers.  Most of the workers’ lives are harsh by First World standards but great by Third World standards.  And wherever they’re from, the staff work together like Prussian officers.  It’s a marvel of multinational management.

2. As I’ve also mentioned, though, the entire cruise industry also depends on immigration restrictions.  Cruising is affordable because labor costs are very low by First World standards.  Under open borders, these well-trained, highly motivated maritime workers would take advantage of the far better job opportunities available on dry land, drastically raising the price of cruising.

3. If you’ve ever wondered if capitalism is turning human beings into machines, taking a cruise will feed your fears.  The cabin stewards, for example, spend 10-12 hours a day making every room on their watch spotless.  Then they disappear into the lightness belly of the ship, re-emerging the next day to begin their duties again.  An occasional shore leave aside, they work seven days a week.

4. If you’ve ever wondered if cosmopolitanism can really function, taking a cruise will feed your hope.  Filipinos, Mexicans, Ukrainians, Romanians, Jamaicans, Chinese, Brazilians, and dozens of other nationalities don’t just “get along.”  They show more team spirit than any American workforce I’ve seen.

5. Modern American politics vanish on a cruise ship.  There’s zero social justice rhetoric or attitude to be found; passengers and crew all take severe inequality for granted.  You might think that’s because the customers are demographically Republican, but there’s also zero nativist rhetoric or attitude to be found.  Elderly American Republican guests interact amicably with foreigners of every description.  There’s no sign that they’re “making an effort” to overcome their xenophobia; they just apolitically accept the cosmopolitan world that surrounds them.  The cruise culture runs on good manners and shared humanity, not identity politics.  And yes, you really can turn the identity volume dial close to zero – which is where it belongs.

6. What does the crew think about global development in general, or immigration restrictions in particular?  I didn’t want to make them uncomfortable, so I didn’t ask… but their actions speak louder than words.  I’d guess that 90% of the workers originate from the Third World.  The fact that they’ve left their home countries behind to serve spoiled First Worlders is a deafening vote of no confidence in their societies of birth.  And when I see the this massive ship running like clockwork, it’s easy to see the wisdom of their decision.  Business isn’t perfect, but it far more deserving of their admiration and loyalty than the demagogic governments they’ve left behind.

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