Pandemics and Open Borders

Does the current pandemic seal the case against open borders?  Though I foresee many readers’ incredulity, the correct answer is: no way.  Why not?  Key point: Borders are already about 98% closed to immigration.  As I’ve explained before:

Let C=total number of immigrants – legal and illegal – who annually enter the U.S. under existing laws.

Let F=the total number of immigrants who would annually enter the U.S. under open borders.

Under perfectly open borders, C=F.  Under perfectly closed borders, C=0.  Where does the status quo fall on this continuum?  The obvious metric:

Open Borders Index=C/F

With closed borders, the Open Borders Index=0.  With open borders, the Open Borders Index=1.

Regardless of your views on immigration, it’s hard to see how your estimate of the actually existing Open Borders Index could exceed .05.  After all, there are hundreds of millions of people who would love to move to the U.S. just to shine our shoes…

Which brings us to the crucial question: How much protection have 98% closed borders given us against the pandemic?  The answer: Virtually none.

To successfully prevent the spread of infection, you would have to do vastly more than permanently stop immigration.  You would also have to permanently stop both trade and tourism.  As long as foreigners can fly over for a visit, or unload their goods on our docks, foreigners can and will infect us with their diseases.  Indeed, as long as natives can fly away for a visit, or unload our goods on other country’s docks, natives can and will infect us with their diseases.  The sad fact is that even very low absolute levels of international contact have been more than sufficient to spread infection almost everywhere on Earth.  The marginal cost of higher levels of contact is therefore minimal.  Do you really think any countries in Europe would be much safer for long if they had merely “stayed out of the EU”?

In fact, if you’re focused solely on preventing the spread of infectious disease, immigrants are plainly better than tourists and sailors.  Few would-be immigrants would be deterred by a mandatory health inspection prior to entry, because they expect large long-run gains.  For tourists and sailors, in contrast, a mandatory health inspection would often be a deal-breaker.  Remember: Even a simple visa requirement reduces tourism by an estimated 70%.  Just imagine the effects of a serious medical exam for every entering or returning international traveler.

Admittedly, you could bite the bullet of full isolation, but that’s crazy.  Hoxha’s Albania and Kim Il-Sung and Kim Jong-Il’s North Korea were awful for many reasons, but autarchy was plainly high up the list.  And to repeat, to make this work you can’t simply keep foreigners out.  You must also keep natives in – or at least tell them, “Once you leave, you can never come back.”

What about temporary travel restrictions to quarantine a severe international disease?  As I’ve explained many times, I am not an absolutist.  Given strong evidence that modest restrictions on mobility have dramatic benefits, such restrictions are justifiable – intranationally as well as internationally.  But that is – and should be – a high bar indeed.  The freedom of movement that we have lost is the freedom of movement that we have denied to non-citizens for a century.

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OFCCP vs. Oracle

Three days before Barack Obama left office, his Department of Labor served a complaint against Oracle America, Inc., alleging gross systemic discrimination in both its hiring practices and its pay practices.

Specifically, it claims that Oracle discriminates against non-Asians in hiring for sixty-nine job titles, and discriminates against women, Asians, and African-Americans in pay for eighty job titles.

DID ORACLE DISCRIMINATE?

Is it strange that Oracle allegedly discriminates both in favor of and against Asians?

The OFCCP (the Office of Federal Contractor Compliance Programs) is the program at the center of this complaint; it is involved because Oracle is a government contractor. The only points supporting OFCCP’s claim are statistical analyses.

The complaint mentions exactly zero employee complaints, and it doesn’t even try to say that there is evidence that Oracle intended to discriminate.

It is difficult to determine and compare the myriad factors involved in assigning appropriate compensation, and the statistical analyses OFCCP conducted likely fall short. Economically speaking, any mutually agreeable level of compensation is appropriate, and in a free market, compensation will tend to be equitable.

SHOULD THE OFCCP HAVE THIS POWER?

However, when Oracle filed a countersuit on November 27, 2019, (yes, the case is still going on), its press release discussed none of those points. Instead, it focused on the unconstitutionality of the Department of Labor acting as “investigator, prosecutor, judge, jury, and appellate court.”

Of course, such arrangements are not limited to the Department of Labor; they have become unfortunately common throughout the Federal bureaucracies. This is despite the blatant violation of the Constitutional separation of powers, arguably the most basic fact of American civics. For most of us, as soon as we started learning about the US Government, we learned about the separation of powers, and how the Founding Fathers designed the system with the famous checks and balances that prevent tyranny.

How well has that tyranny prevention worked out so far?

Oracle argues that the situation is not only unconstitutional but also statutorily illegal. It remains to be seen how the suit and countersuit will turn out; typically, it takes extremely deep pockets to win such a fight against the feds. Oracle may yet come out on top, but so far, it appears that the checks and balances have failed to protect Oracle — a company that provides over 100,000 jobs and many billions of dollars of services to the economy each year.

COULD THE FREE MARKET HANDLE THIS?

The OFCCP has not made a compelling case for the existence of systemic discrimination within Oracle; its claims are prima facie incongruous and based exclusively on ambiguous data. Indeed, it appears that it has inserted itself into a situation in which no one has complained, no one has objected, no one has said that their compensation was not appropriate for their labor or that they objectively should have been hired when they were not.

But, what if there really were discrimination?

And, is there a better way to handle it than the intra-DoL system, or even the Constitutional system?

My interest is in how this situation would play out in a free market. Let’s consider it.

A free market, with total freedom of association, would probably have no claims of hiring discrimination, because no one would be compelled to hire or retain anyone against their will. Of course, a reputation for discrimination could easily lead to a loss of revenue, as a consumer base that opposes discrimination would likely choose to take their business elsewhere.

Furthermore, formal anti-discrimination regulations could be voluntary. Associations or organizations could prescribe standards for avoiding discrimination, as well as regular audits to ensure compliance, and consumers could choose to patronize only those companies that subscribe to sufficiently stringent standards and pass the audits.

HOW WOULD THE FREE MARKET HANDLE THIS?

What would happen with a discrimination claim in a free market?

Let’s say that Oracle is certified as discrimination-free by the standard-bearer anti-discrimination association. In this scenario, a prospective employee believes that Oracle has discriminated against him in the hiring process, or a current employee believes (despite mutual agreement) that Oracle has discriminated against him in his compensation.

He could discuss it directly with the appropriate people in Oracle, or he could take it to the anti-discrimination association that certifies Oracle as discrimination-free.

If his claim has merit, the association would need to ensure that Oracle settles the claim swiftly and fairly, or have its discrimination-free certification revoked. To do otherwise would risk the association’s reputation and tarnish the value of their certifications.

IS THERE ANOTHER WAY TO LOOK AT THE SITUATION?

Of course, this is just one way it could play out. The best part about the free market — wait, is there a single best part? —  is that one person can’t conceive of all the remarkable ways that collaboration and competition can make the world a better place.

On the other hand, you may have noticed some similarities between how a discrimination claim would work in a free market, and how it works with a state-run system. Part of that is because the free market is impossible to get away from completely, and part of it is because my imagination is likely affected by the status quo. The main benefits of the free market vis-a-vis the state-run system are the lack of coercion (in both funding and association) and the opportunities for innovation.

CONCLUSION

In summary, it appears that the Constitutional system isn’t working (since we have unconstitutional bureaucratic judicial pipelines all over the place), and those pipelines don’t work too well either (since they use sketchy math to find problems where no one involved sees a problem). So, do you think a free market system would work better? How do you think it would function? How would you design it?

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Reflections on the Leiter-Caplan Debate

It was a pleasure debating Brian Leiter last week.  The resolution, to repeat:

“Social democracy is preferable to market capitalism, but ultimately America will need to move towards a socialist system.”

Here are some thoughts I failed to fully articulate at the live event.  As always, I’m happy to publish any reply my opponent wishes to compose.

1. To his credit, Leiter expressed zero sympathy for any actual socialist regime.  He even condemned Cuba; good for him.  But Leiter still insisted that the totality of these awful experiences show next to nothing about the desirability of socialism, which frankly seems crazy.  As far as I could tell, Leiter hews to the classic Marxist position that we should transition to socialism only after capitalism creates incredible abundance.  Unlike most historical Marxists, however, he doesn’t think that even the richest countries are ready yet.  My question: If we finally got rich enough for socialism, why think that a socialist regime would be able to maintain the prior level of prosperity, much less provide continued progress?

2. When I discussed the actual performance of social democracy, Leiter was surprisingly apologetic.  He conceded that we have wasteful universal redistribution, instead of well-targeted means-tested redistribution.  His only defense was to repeat the flimsy argument that it’s too hard to sustain popular support for means-tested programs.

3. On regulation, Leiter appeared to endorse open borders; good for him.  He also professed agnosticism on housing regulation.  Since these are by far the two biggest forms of regulation in modern social democracies (measured by how much regulation changes the likely market outcome), it’s hard to see why he would believe that increased regulation has, on balance, been good for humanity or the poor.

4. According to Leiter, “ultimately America will need to move towards a socialist system” because automation will one day cause mass unemployment.  This position baffled me on multiple levels.  Most obviously, why not respond to automation with redistribution rather than nationalization, and thereby avoid killing the capitalist goose that has hitherto laid a mountain of golden eggs?

My fundamental objection, however, is that history teaches us that technological unemployment is only a morbid fantasy.  When firms figure out ways to get more output out of fewer workers, this may cause unemployment in the short-run.  Soon enough, however, business has repeatedly figured out new jobs for workers to perform.  Business has already accomplished the miraculous task of creating new roles for the enormous number of workers disemployed by the mechanization of agriculture.  Every future economic transformation pales by comparison.  Remember: Almost everyone was a farmer for almost all of recorded human history.  Then industrialization eliminated almost all farm jobs.  Yet today, we don’t miss these jobs.  Instead, we get fat on all the cheap food, and do jobs our agrarian ancestors would have struggled to understand.

Leiter had two responses to my reaction.  One was “maybe this time it will be different”; Leiter even appealed to David Hume’s problem of induction to downplay all prior economic history!  If you take this line, however, it would only entitle you to say “it is logically possible that America will need to move towards a socialist system” – a vacuous claim indeed.  Frankly, if you take Hume seriously, even the best empirical evidence shows nothing about the future, so why bother debating at all?

Leiter’s better argument was that capitalists are perennially trying to cut costs – and that in the long-run capitalism works.  So eventually capitalists will figure out a way to run the economy without workers – an outcome that is individually rational for a capitalist, but socially disastrous for capitalism.  My response: Yes, capitalists want to figure out how to produce a given level of output with fewer workers.  Their deeper goal, however, is to figure out the most profitable way to employ all available inputs.  As long as there are able-bodied people who want to work, there will be a capitalist brainstorming how to make money off the situation.  And to echo Leiter, in the long-run this works.

5. Leiter bizarrely insisted that “the” goal of socialism was to allow human freedom – legions of vocally authoritarian self-identified socialists notwithstanding.  He followed up with the classic socialist argument that saying “If you don’t do what I say, I won’t give you the job you need to avoid starvation” is just as much an abridgment of freedom as “If you don’t do what I say, I will shoot you.”

The standard reply, of course, is that there is a vast moral difference between getting you to do what I want by threatening to take away something to which you are morally entitled (e.g., your life) and getting you to do what I want by threatening to take away something to which you are not morally entitled (e.g. my assistance).  Thus, imagine you will be suicidally depressed unless I marry you.  Is my refusal to marry you morally equivalent to making you suicidally depressed by threatening to shoot you unless you break off your engagement to your willing fiance?  Of course not.  You aren’t entitled to marry me if I don’t approve, but you and your fiance are entitled to marry each other even if I don’t approve.

6. Moral entitlement aside, “If you don’t do what I say, I won’t give you the job you need to avoid starvation” is rarely relevant in modern labor markets.  Why not?  First, there are competing employers, so if you don’t like an offer, you can shop around for another.  (Smarter yet, take what you can get, but keep searching for a better offer).  Second, if you live frugally, even a relatively low-wage worker can save up a nest egg, making it easy to turn down unappealing offers in the future.  Naturally, you can object, “I still face the choice to either live frugally, work for some employer, or starve.”  If so, we’re back to my original reply: Complaining about being “free to starve” is the flip side of demanding that strangers support you whether they like it or not.

7. Leither took umbrage at my authoritarian interpretation of Marx.  I freely grant that Leiter’s invested more time reading Marx than I have.  However, I too have devoted long hours to Marx’s oeuvre (though I’ve spent far more reading about the actual history of socialist regimes), and I stand by my bleak assessment.

Did Marx explicitly say, “We should round up priests and execute them”?  To the best of my knowledge, no.  Yet that is the most reasonable interpretation of what Marx had planned.  What are we supposed to think when Marx makes Orwellian statements like,  “[B]ourgeois ‘freedom of conscience’ is nothing but the toleration of all possible kinds of religious freedom of conscience, and that for its part [socialism] endeavors rather to liberate the conscience from the witchery of religion” (Critique of the Gotha Program)?  It doesn’t sound like Marx plans to respect the rights of people who don’t wish to be so “liberated.”  If Leiter is right, why did so few Marxists protest Lenin’s religious persecution?  I say it’s because Marx provided the Orwellian language they needed to insist that Freedom is Slavery.  As I wrote two decades ago:

Innumerable social thinkers disagree with much of Marx’s thought, but praise his reflections upon human freedom, the depth of his insight in contrast to the shallowness of liberalism. Yet it is difficult to understand how Marx’s concept of freedom is anything more than a defense of tyranny and oppression. No dissident or non-conformist can see society as the “realization of his own liberty.” And what can the attack on “the right to do everything which does not harm others” amount to in practice, except a justification for coercing people who are not harming others? The problem with “broad” notions of freedom is that they necessarily wind up condoning the violation of “narrow” notions of freedom. Under “bourgeois” notions of religious liberty, people may practice any religion they wish (“a private whim or caprice” as Marx calls it); how could this liberty be broadened, without sanctioning the persecution of some religious views?

Listening to Leiter, a law professor at the University of Chicago, I couldn’t help but think, “Leiter is talking like Marx’s lawyer.”  When a Mafia enforcer says, “Sweet kids you got there; be a shame if anything happened to them,” a Mafia lawyer will vigorously deny that his client threatened to murder children.  Any neutral adult, however, knows that the Mafioso did exactly that.  I say the same about Marx’s writings.  “I’m going to bring you real freedom” is a classic Offer You Can’t Refuse – as Marxist revolutionaries have shown us time and again.  A skilled lawyer can obfuscate this scary truth, but a learned philosopher should not.

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Glad Someone Finally Said “Enough”

As much as I appreciate sheriffs who refuse to enforce the latest blatant violation of the Constitution — so-called “red flag” legislation — I wonder where their courage to not do the wrong thing has been hiding until now.

Unconstitutional gun legislation — which includes every “law” concerning guns — has been enforced by those in these same offices since 1934. This newest violation isn’t worse than the others. This is an arbitrary, theatrical line-in-the-sand.

If they have ever arrested someone for carrying a concealed firearm without a license, or insisted a gun shop needs permission from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives before selling guns, then they’ve broken the law, which applies to their job by enforcing legislation that was illegal to impose or enforce.

If they would help arrest someone for mailing a gun, after selling it through an advertisement on the internet, to someone in another state who lacks the “proper license,” they have violated the Constitution in the exact same way they now say they won’t do.

If they would arrest someone for possessing or selling a fully automatic firearm without the government paperwork, they’re willing to violate the Constitution. As they are if they’d enforce the rules against shotguns with barrels declared “too short” or against safety equipment like suppressors (incorrectly called “silencers”).

How can anyone take these scofflaws at their word?

Even the Supreme Court ironically recognized the right to ignore unconstitutional “laws” — which they declared to not be laws at all — in the same ruling in which they unconstitutionally decided they have the final say on what the Constitution means: the Marbury v. Madison ruling in 1803.

Neither the Supreme Court nor anyone else associated with the federal government has the right to decide what the Constitution means.

The same is true of state officials deciding what the state constitution allows them to do to the people. This would make no sense. You can’t let someone decide how the rules that limit their job’s power will be applied or what they mean. It’s like letting the accused murderer dictate how his trial will be carried out and what evidence to allow.

Speaking of trials, the federal government won’t allow the Second Amendment to be used as an argument in favor of the accused when there is a “gun offense” in question — yet it is the only relevant factor.

I’m glad someone stood up and said “Enough!”

I’d be more impressed if they’d be consistent and stop breaking the law entirely.

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Backlash: The Last Refuge of an Immigration Moderate

Moderately pro-immigration thinkers often worry about “backlash.”  Tyler Cowen’s the most energetic worrier, but Tim Kane said the same at my Cato book party.  Backlash is what you bring up when none of the popular complaints about immigration make sense to you.  Then you get meta and reflect, “Immigration does have one serious cost: it inspires bad arguments.  Such arguments could ultimately lead to bad policies.”

The strange thing about the backlash argument is that the mechanism is totally general: “If you push X too far, you will – rightly or wrongly – upset the opponents of X.  They could be so upset that you actually get less X.”  Yet backlash to immigration is virtually the only form of policy backlash that anyone fears.

Which leads to an obvious question: Where are the other backlashes?

There has been some discussion of #MeToo backlash.  Yet as far as I can tell, no one worries that #MeToo will ultimately increase sexual harassment.

There has been some talk of globalization backlash.  Yet again, who claims that pushing globalization too hard actually leads to less globalization?

What gives?  The simplest story is that backlash against immigration is vastly stronger than backlash to virtually everything else in the universe.  However, there’s no evidence for this extraordinary claim – and as far as I know, even the vocal proponents of the immigration backlash story have never made it.

Another possibility is that immigration is only the tip of the backlash iceberg.  Big backlashes are all over the political landscape; we’ll find a bunch as soon as we start looking.

Good luck with that!

The more plausible story, finally, is that (a) the case for radical immigration liberalization is intellectually solid, but (b) most thinkers dislike advocating anything radical.  Low-quality thinkers can escape this bind by casually embracing low-quality arguments.  Higher-quality thinkers, however, have to scrounge around for a meta-argument.  When you know the critics of immigration are wrong, you warn, “Immigration is making the critics of immigration angry – and they might do something bad.”

To which the obvious reply is, “How bad?  Worse than the enormous harms of the immigration restrictions already on the books?  Highly unlikely.”

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Mentoring: The Rationality of Fear

A few months ago, Lean In published the results of a survey by Sandberg and Pritchard showing a dramatic increase in the share of male managers who fear close interaction with female coworkers.  Specifically:

60% of managers who are men are uncomfortable participating in a common work activity with a woman, such as mentoring, working alone, or socializing together. That’s a 32% jump from a year ago.

The survey’s creators were dismayed:

This is disastrous. The vast majority of managers and senior leaders are men. They have a huge role to play in supporting women’s advancement at work—or hindering it…

There’s not a company in the world that can afford to leave talent on the sidelines because that talent is female. But that’s what will keep happening unless all of us—especially men—commit to doing better.

Most commentators found male managers’ reluctance to mentor women especially reprehensible and irrational.  Male managers aren’t just undermining gender equality; they’re paranoid.  How so?  Because innocent men have nothing to fear except false accusations – and these hardly ever happen.  Thus, Prudy Gourguechon remarks:

The implication of the surveys is that men are afraid of being falsely accused.  But false accusations of sexual impropriety are actually very rare.

Mia Brett tells us:

Despite the framing of this story, male managers refusing to mentor women started long before #MeToo. Furthermore, fears of false accusation aren’t supported by statistics.

Andrew Fiouzi:

[D]ealing with men’s unrealistic fears around false accusations will require unfamiliar amounts of self-reflection on the part of the men in question.

Emily Peck:

Some men also like to claim that women are fabricating claims. Those fears are largely unfounded, Thomas said. She points out that the same myth surrounds sexual assault. False accusations make up a very low percentage of reported rapes, according to several studies — in line with other types of crime.

While it’s dauntingly hard to credibly estimate the rate of false accusation, I suspect all the preceding authors are correct.  Human beings rarely invent bald harmful lies about others.

On reflection, however, this hardly implies that male managers are paranoid or otherwise “irrational.”  For three reasons:

1. You have to multiply the probability of a false accusation by the harm of a false accusation.  Since the harm is high, even a seemingly negligible probability may be worth worrying about.  Consider this passage in Fiouzi’s analysis:

But according to Richard J. Reddick, an associate professor of educational leadership and policy at the University of Texas at Austin, there is, practically speaking, no evidence to justify the Pence Rule [not dining alone with women other than your wife]. “You often hear about men being falsely accused of sexual harassment,” he says. “[But] the University of California, San Diego Center on Gender Equity and Health conducted a study recently that revealed that two percent of men and one percent of women had been falsely accused of sexual harassment or assault, so in fact, accusations, and particularly false ones, are exceptionally rare.”

Taking these estimates at face value, it’s hard to see the paranoia: A 2% chance of severe career damage is a serious risk, especially given the low personal benefits of mentoring.  Furthermore, managers are far more tempting targets for false accusation than ordinary co-workers, so their probability of being falsely accused plausibly rises to 4%, 6%, or even 10%.

2.  In any case, a low rate of false accusation multiplied by a long mentoring career could still readily lead to multiple false accusations.  So it’s hardly imprudent for many male managers to respond with great caution.  Remember: The chance you’ll die in a car crash today if you don’t wear a seat belt is a rounding error.  The chance you’ll eventually die in a car crash if you habitually don’t wear a seat belt, however, is nothing to scoff at.

3. As I’ve explained before, truly malevolent actions – such as falsely accusing others – are far less common than misunderstandings.  Misunderstandings are a ubiquitous unpleasant feature of human life.  One common way to avoid this unpleasantness is to avoid social situations likely to lead to misunderstandings.  This strategy is especially tempting if, in the event of misunderstanding, others will presume you’re in the wrong.  So again, it’s hardly surprising that many male managers would respond to changing norms (#BelieveWomen) by playing defense.

What then should be done?  The emotionally appealing response, sadly, is to fight fear with an extra helping of fear: “You’re too scared to mentor?  Interesting.  Now let me show you what we do to those who shirk their mentoring responsibilities.”  If this seems like a caricature, carefully listen to what the authors of the original survey have to say:

Ugly behavior that once was indulged or ignored is finally being called out and condemned. Now we must go further. Avoiding and isolating women at work—whether out of an overabundance of caution, a misguided sense of decorum, irritation at having to check your words or actions, or any other reason—must be unacceptable too.

The problem, of course, is that mentoring is too informal to easily monitor.  Unless someone loudly announces, “I refuse to mentor women,” there’s not much you can do to him.  Mentoring quotas are likely to flop for the same reason.

The alternative is obvious, but unpalatable for activists: Put the frightened people whose assistance you need at ease.  Be friendly and calm, gracious and grateful.  Take the ubiquity of misunderstandings seriously.  Don’t zealously advocate for yourself, and don’t rush to take sides.  Instead, strive to de-escalate conflict whenever a misunderstanding arises.  This would obviously work best as a coordinated cultural shift toward good manners, but you don’t have to wait for the world to come to its senses.  You can start building your personal reputation for collegiality today – so why wait to get potential mentors on your side?

If you’re tempted to respond, “Why should I have to put them at ease?,” the honest answer is: Because you’re the one asking for help.

If that’s the way you talk to others, though, don’t expect them to give you honest answers.  Intimidation is the father of silence and the mother of lies.  If you have to use threats to exhort help, you’ll probably just get a bunch of empty promises.

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