World’s Dumbest Phrases

It seems an inordinate number of the World’s Dumbest Phrases start with one particular word: “our“.

Our government”, “our president”, “our military”, “our CIA”, “our elections”, “our police”, “our borders”, “our schools”, or whatever. Dumb, dumb, dumb.

If that seems insulting, good. It’s intended to be, and a person probably wouldn’t be insulted if they didn’t know it’s true.

Now, “our” isn’t always a dumb word to use. If you and I share real-world ownership in something, “our” is a valid word. Suppose we go in together and buy a sword, and we have an arrangement where we both get to use it. It is our sword.

Something doesn’t become “ours” just because you want to impose it on me at my expense when I have no use for it. It’s also not “ours” if you’re trying to spread the guilt around; smearing me by claiming I share in your guilt. If you want it, and it is harmful, but I have opposed it from the beginning– or even if I withdrew my support when I got smarter– you don’t get to pin it on me. I disavow your ethical and economic disasters. They are your responsibility. Suck it up.

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Governing Least‘s Immigration Oversight

Dan Moller’s Governing Least barely mentions immigration.  But it should have, because of its strong implications for this hugely important issue.  Applying Moller’s approach, there is not only a moral presumption in favor of open borders, but a host of residual obligations that accompany even justified restrictions on immigration.

Recall that Moller’s libertarianism highlights the effrontery of extra-libertarian moral demands:

Imagine calling a town hall meeting and delivering the following speech:

My dear assembled citizens: I know most of us are strangers, but of late I have fallen on hard times through no fault of my own, by sheer bad luck. My savings are low, and I don’t have friends or family to help. Now as you know, I’ve previously asked for help from you as private citizens, as a matter of charity. But unfortunately that hasn’t been sufficient. Thus, I’m here now to insist that you (yes you, Emma, and you, John) owe me assistance as a matter of justice. It is a deep violation if you don’t work additional hours, take fewer vacations if need be, live in a smaller house, or send your kids to a worse school, in order to help me. Failing to do so is no less an injustice than failing to pay your debts.

Moreover, calling this an injustice means that it’s not enough that you comply with your obligations by working on my behalf. No, I insist that you help me to force your fellow citizens to assist me. It doesn’t matter if these others say to you that they need the money for their own purposes, that they prefer worthier causes, or if they’re just hard-hearted and don’t care. To the extent you care about justice, you must help me to force these others to assist me whether they wish to or not, since that is what is owed me in light of my recent bad luck.

Could you bring yourself to make this speech?

But Governing Least also gives this imaginary speech a libertarian foil:

Compare, then, a similar speech advancing a different substantive claim:

My dear assembled citizens: of late, some of you have been stealing my money. I’m here now to insist that you (yes you, Emma, and you, John) give it back. This means that you owe me thousands of dollars which you stole. It’s a deep violation if you don’t work additional hours, take fewer vacations if need be, live in a smaller house, or send your kids to a worse school, in order to pay me back what you stole. Failing to do so is no less an injustice than failing to pay your debts. Moreover, calling this an injustice means that it’s not enough that you comply with your obligations by working on my behalf to repay me what you’ve stolen. No, I insist that you help me to force the thieves among you to pay restitution. It doesn’t matter if these thieves say to you that they need the money for their own purposes, that they prefer worthier causes, or that they’re just hard- hearted and don’t care. To the extent you care about justice, you must help me to force these others to repay me what they stole.

No one is likely to be embarrassed by this variant. Even if we are shy and uncomfortable about confronting others in public speeches, there is nothing strange about the idea of giving such a speech, or about someone giving it. To the extent there is a problem with the first speech it lies not in its manner but its substance.

When a foreigner demands his right to work for a willing domestic employer or rent from a willing domestic landlord, it closely parallels the second speech.  The only out is to appeal to the very “emergent moral powers of the state” that Moller decisively rejects:

Essentially, the issue is whether there are emergent moral powers of the state — permissions that the state enjoys that mere individuals do not. It is an important assumption in some of my arguments that we can compare the actions of the state to the actions of individuals, and that objections to what individuals or groups of individuals do to us by way of infringing our rights can be objections to what the state does, assuming the circumstances and grounds of infringement are similar. I will assume, that is, that it makes sense to ask such questions as, “Could I and my friends break down your door and compel you to give us your money for reason X under circumstances Y?” and to draw conclusions about what the state may do. We can call this the non- emergence assumption.

Since it would be normally be morally wrong for my friends and I to exile someone for being born in a different country, it is also normally wrong for governments to do so.  In other words, Moller’s work implies an open borders presumption.  Furthermore, even if the consequences of immigration were sufficient to surmount this presumption, regulators must mind Moller’s residual obligations:

I propose the following non-exhaustive list of residual obligations for cases like Emergency:

Restitution: although I didn’t do wrong, I must repay the $1,000 if possible, perhaps in reasonable installments.

Compensation: to the extent you are otherwise harmed by my actions, I should attempt to compensate you. For instance, if I smashed your windows getting in or forced you to incur some loss because you had to come home at short notice, I must compensate you at some reasonable rate.

Sympathy: it is incumbent on me to convey, if not an apology for my (permissible) actions, at least sympathy for the harm I have caused you. (“I’m very sorry I had to do that” would be the natural if slightly misleading phrase.) I cannot offer a Gallic shrug at your distress and announce, “I did nothing wrong— it’s your problem” as you survey the wreckage of your home. To do so would exhibit a serious character flaw.

Responsibility: my obligations are not just backward looking, but forward looking. If I can reasonably foresee that some action of mine will put me in the position of facing an emergency that will then render it permissible to harm you, I must take responsibility to avoid such actions if possible. I should not think that I have less reason to take responsibility because I can avoid harms by transferring them to you instead. And failing to take responsibility weakens my claim to impose costs on others when the time comes.

So even when immigration regulations are morally justified responses to dire consequences, governments cannot legitimately restrict immigration unless they also:

a. Pay restitution/compensation to innocents denied admission.

b. Earnestly apologize to innocents denied admission.

c. Scrupulously eschew policies that give immigration dire consequences.  For example, governments cannot rightfully refuse immigration on the grounds that, “Our welfare state is so generous that you would be a big net fiscal burden.”  Even if this is true, Moller’s framework places the blame on the governments that create dangerously generous welfare states in the first place.  Once a government adopts these irresponsible policies, they have no right to “avoid harms by transferring them” to immigrants.

To repeat, I’m the one using Moller’s approach to morally assess immigration.  He focuses almost entirely on the welfare state, mentioning immigration only in passing.  To my mind, this is doubly unfortunate because…

First, the harm of the welfare state, though serious, is minor compared to the harm of immigration restriction.  Denying billions of desperately poor people the right to move to opportunity is far worse than forcing hundreds of millions of fortunate people to “donate” a quarter of their income.

Second, it reinforces the false stereotype that libertarianism disregards the rights of the poor.  When the U.S. government jails families for the “crime” of seeking asylum, an exclusive focus on the evils of programs like TANF and SNAP really does reveal a major moral blind spot.  Since Moller reads abundant empirical research, moreover, he can’t easily plead ignorance of the facts.

Fortunately, Moller can remedy this situation… by writing a follow-up article on the ethics of immigration.  He totally should.

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My Provisional Support For “Borders”

The only legitimate justification for something like a “national border” would be to separate a free territory from any unfree territories around it. In order to protect the people in the free territory from the statists surrounding them.

This situation doesn’t exist anywhere in the world because there are no free territories (other than small scale experimentsmaybe). America hasn’t been a free territory since America was replaced by “the United States” with the ratification of the U. S. Constitution. As long as there are “taxes” and other counterfeit “laws” and politicians in a territory, it is not free. Even though there are differences in degree, there are no differences in kind.

As it is, national borders are rather like the internal fences in a feedlot. They separate different groups of cattle from each other for the purposes of those who exploit them. It’s not for the good of the cattle. It would be genius to brainwash the cattle into believing it is.

In our human situation, it’s as if the cattle in one pen are getting angry at the cattle who hop the fence instead of focusing their anger at those who manage the feedlot. “We must remain ‘King of the Dung Heap’ in our little pen!

Those humans who hop the fence may be hoping to avoid a looming appointment on the kill floor, or maybe they hope for more food on the other side. But if they are looking for liberty they are doing it wrong and looking in the wrong place. Still, I can’t blame them for doing something in their desperation, even if it amounts to jumping out of the fire and into the smoldering kindling.

And, the ones who hop the fence and then demand to make this side similar to the side they were desperate to escape are being stupid and are committing evil.

To be clear: nothing excuses archation by fence hoppers. Nor by fence defenders.

Instead of abandoning principles over your “border”, why not make this side of the fence free. Create a condition of liberty. That means zero “taxes”, zero counterfeit “laws” of any kind, and zero politicians. This side of the fence cannot be a State.

Then, and only then, I’ll help you secure the border from anyone who tries to bring a little bit of archation into this free territory– while welcoming all others (because they couldn’t be a problem). Anyone else should be free to cross this border in either direction with no delay or difficulty whatsoever.

Because it’s always up to the believers to convince the skeptics, it’s up to those who support the “borders” to make this a free territory and convince me to support their walls and fences. If they have a workable plan which doesn’t involve me compromising food with poison or liberty with statism, I’ll jump right in.

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Reviewing Paranoia

We often hear about “movies that are better than the book,” but rarely of “book reviews that are better than the book.” Cato’s Alex Nowrasteh has just published one such book review.  Here’s Nowrasteh on Reihan Salam’s Melting Pot or Civil War? A Son of Immigrants Makes the Case Against Open Borders:

The gap in quality between the book described by reviewers above and the actual book Melting Pot or Civil War? is wider than in any other book that I can remember reading. Descriptions of “calm” and “reasonable” are the most perplexing. True, he appeals to Americans “who are willing to meet others halfway” to solve the problems that he’s identified. On the other hand, he also argues that we need to follow his policy recommendations or face a racialized civil war. That is the very opposite of a “calm” or “reasonable” argument. A better description would be “hysterical” or “paranoid.”

Hysteria and paranoia aside, what’s wrong with the book?  Salam engages in extreme reverse engineering, where even the most favorable facts about immigration somehow become extra reasons to oppose it:

For example, Salam disagrees with himself over whether the goal of immigration policy should be to increase wages and employment for low-skilled immigrants and their descendants, or per capita productivity growth in small sectors of the economy. He rightly claims that immigration barely affects wages in the United States, but then argues that a major benefit of stopping low-skilled immigration is higher wages for native-born and immigrant dropouts. Salam correctly points out that low-skilled immigrants today compete mostly against other low-skilled immigrants, so he wants to help low-skilled immigrants here by stopping more from immigrating in the first place.

Much of the book, moreover, is simply odd:

Forgetting everything that he wrote about labor markets, Salam praises a science fiction-esque scenario of “virtual immigration” where workers would work remotely by operating robots in the United States from their home countries — even though the labor market effects of that would at best be economically identical to allowing them to immigrate and work here. Salam argues that “virtual immigration will do more good than harm for U.S. workers, provided we have the right safeguards in place [emphasis added].” Salam does not explain what those safeguards are, how they would prevent competition in labor markets, and why the government couldn’t just apply those same safeguards to prevent labor market competition between low-skilled immigrants and low-skilled natives.


Salam mentions the enormous economic cost to those foreigners who would be locked out of the United States under his preferred immigration policy. He proposes a package of U.S. foreign aid to bribe foreign governments to establish charter cities so that low-skilled immigrants can go there instead of the United States. Oddly, he predicts those charter cities will become “fonts of entrepreneurship and public policy solutions” and that excellent new ideas developed there will enrich America. If low-skilled immigrants are entrepreneurs who will create fantastic new ideas in these charter cities that will eventually make it to America, why not just let them come here in the first place? Why spill so much ink supporting a utopian scheme of charter cities as a solution to global poverty when immigration is a tried and true method?

You might think the “civil war” stuff is just hyperbole on the book cover, but no:

To his credit, Salam does admit that there is no private political violence in American today that is comparable to the chaos before the Civil War, but that “it is hard to shake the feeling that our luck might soon run out.” Civil war is a deadly serious topic and perhaps this reviewer is being too nitpicky, but I require more than Salam’s difficultly in “shaking a feeling” to take his worry seriously. He should have done more to show that the choice is really between his “melting pot” or a “civil war.”

Better yet, Salam should have proposed a bet.  I say that America – indeed, the entire First World – is not only too rich, but too electronically sedated, to physically fight about much of anything.  The risk of civil war in the First World is small enough to make even the trivial danger of terrorism look big by comparison.

If you think me naive, come take my money.

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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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