Amor Fati, But for the Past

It takes as much equanimity to accept the past as it does to accept the future.

Friedrich Nietzsche (I think) introduced the notion of “amor fati,” or “love of fate” as a way for humans to reconcile themselves to the uncertainty of the future and the disasters it may bring for each of us. The idea? Don’t fear your fate, don’t even just “accept” it – *love* it. If you love whatever comes, and act accordingly, no fate can harm you.

Is your fate to break a leg right before your football team wins state? “Amor fati” would perhaps have you be the best crippled cheerleader/mascot/inspiration you can be, using your injury for all it’s worth as self-motivation, others-motivation, self-improvement, and others-improvement.

“Amor fati” is fine for the future, but what about all else that has come before? As Gus McRae of Lonesome Dove says, “the world ain’t nothin’ but a boneyard. . .” We live at the tail end of a long history of life that includes lots of death, injustice, and suffering. When I drive through the beautiful lands of the Southeast United States, I also have to remember that so much of it is what it is because people were kept as slaves here.

What’s more, we each live at the tail end of long personal histories of mistakes, foolishness, regrettable decisions (or indecisions), and pain. We each have to wonder more or less often how things might have turned out differently with us had things gone differently.

I think this is where we need a more clearly defined concept. Perhaps “Amor praeteritum”?

The past can be a horrible place, but (as so many popular songs attest) it’s also what brought us to where we are now. When someone says they wouldn’t “trade any of it,” it means they have accepted the pain of what came before as the price for becoming. This is a viewpoint worth having. As someone who has spent a good amount of time regretting paths taken or untaken, I reckon it’s one of the only ways to sane acceptance of life.

If it is Stoic to accept whatever comes, it is Stoic also to accept whatever has come before. Practice “amor praeteritum” alongside your “amor fati,” if it’s not too tall an order.

Open This Content

Technocracy is Evil and Inhumane

The instant, simultaneous, total state takeover of the “civilized” world revealed how dire our situation is.

The battle of this generation is liberty against technocratic control; living, organic order vs. dead, clean chaos.

 

Order is natural, emergent, dynamic, unpredictable, useful, creative, and meaningful. It can’t be wholly contained, but it can be harnessed, guided, played with, adjusted to, and discovered in a continual dance. It is moving into the future. It is an infinite, positive-sum game.

Chaos is stripped down, unnatural, incapable of growth or change, dead or decaying, empty, and devoid of depth. Once natural order is made wholly legible and containable, it has been killed. Life and control are anathema. Chaos is the result of attempting total control. It freezes the present and reverts to stagnate snapshots of the past. It is a finite, zero-sum game.

Chaos is not the result of freedom or the state of nature, order is. Chaos is the result of efforts to defy the freedom of the state of nature. Chaos results when liberty and life are stripped from the world and all that remains are sanitized elements easily countable, reducible, and containable.

Architect and philosopher Christopher Alexander made a life’s work of studying the concept of “aliveness” in footpaths, windowsills, buildings, neighborhoods, and natural and designed systems of all kinds. His books offer many side-by-side photos of homes or other scenes, and ask the reader to, on a gut level, decide which is more “alive”. Every single person agrees easily and quickly. We know the more living from the more dead when we see it, but understanding why is difficult. Alexander made great progress. Living systems are in harmony with natural human tendency. For example, humans are phototropic. We also like to sit after more than a few minutes. So a chair placed near a window harmonizes with these subconscious patterns, while a chair facing a windowless wall does not.

Social architects (who dwell in brutalist buildings that suck all life from the ground where they stand) do not observe and contemplate life. They calculate and scheme control. They want legible, definable utility, based on static definitions and stale answers without questions. They kill the human spirit the way a giant parking lot kills the view.

The Great Sanitizer

The state and the obsessive, maladjusted, soul-dead busybodies who pull its levers are always seeking to remove impurity and unpredictability from the world. That is the same as removing life itself. This is what Ayn Rand meant when she called collectivist, command and control philosophies “anti-life”. That is the essence of what they are. To control is to kill.

The state wants to aggregate, categorize, sort, label, and track. James Scott describes in his several works the driving force of the state to make all persons and property “legible”. If they cannot be defined into conceptual submission and measured until all surprise is extinguished, how can they be controlled? So states set about to kill the creative, generative forces that make life worth living.

C.S. Lewis, in the final installment of his sci-fi space trilogy, That Hideous Strength, describes a scientific institution (called N.I.C.E.) with aims at global domination. The reason isn’t a lust for power per se, but a desire to make the world clean, free of germs and dirt and bugs and unpredictability, and all the shifting variables which make complete legibility impossible. In other words, they want to snuff out that pesky thing fueled by liberty that we call life.

Stranger Than Stories

These ideas used to seem a bit much to me.

Sure, some people are control freaks. Yeah, religious devotion to science is a contradiction to all reason and sometimes gets nasty. Yes, unspeakably awful ideas like eugenics have been a major part of every government in modern history (much as they might now deny it), but total rule by technicians whose greatest foe is unpredictability? Isn’t that the stuff of bad Bond villains?

No.

It is the outlook I see as the greatest present threat to all that is good and true and just and humane.

Total global lockdown – the literal imprisonment of entire populations without even the pretense of wrongdoing by the state’s own absurd and shifting standards – and introduction and embrace of oxymoronic phrases like, “Social distancing” came about not out of fear of some feigned foreign enemy or revolt against some unpopular dictator. They came about in an instant solely because the idea of planned chaos (to quote Ludwig von Mises) has so overcome the notion of spontaneous order.

Devotion to the fiction that men with guns and laws and stolen money can control microscopic pathogens we barely understand animated the acquiescence to complete boot-licking servitude. Anything – anything! – but unpredictable organic nature in all it’s life-giving danger and beauty. We must collectively pretend we can eradicate uncertainty, all physical and spiritual casualties be damned.

When Science Died

The oxymorons in the air are rooted in a deeper one.

“Belief in science”.

That’s a phrase people have been unironically uttering with increased frequency for at least a few decades.

“I believe in science” is a contradiction in concepts. It is meaningless, used only to signal superiority by unthinking people who are scared of unknowns.

Belief means to assume the truth of something and act on that assumption without fail. Science means to assume the fallibility of everything and never stop trying to prove it false. I would like to be charitable and say that people simply mean this in a tongue-in-cheek way, to say they are religiously devoted to questioning everything.

Except the complete opposite is true everywhere you see “belief in science” trotted out, or true skeptics called “deniers of science”. The scientific process is nothing if it is not a perpetual threat to the consensus view. Yet the word has come to mean nothing more than blind defense of the consensus view. Scientism is antithetical to science.

Similarly, those who question mainstream ideas (not merely ideas, but the violent imposition of those ideas) are called “believers”, and those who crouch and lick the hand that whips them are called “skeptics”. If Orwell never seemed relevant before, he surely does now.

A History of Inhumanity

Those with rabid, hateful, desperate, lurching faith in state agents to neatly destroy organic order and replace it with clean chaos are naive about the power of the state to do harm. Even granting stupidly charitable assumptions about the state’s goals being good to begin with, bureaucracies being capable of carrying them out perfectly, and no unintended consequences resulting, there is no instance in the history of the organized crime that calls itself government where states did not venture far beyond what the public knew or desired.

Did you know every single state in the United States had forced sterilization programs at one point? Health departments with an explicit goal of reducing the population of blacks, handicapped persons, poor people, and other “undesirable” individuals surreptitiously injected people to prevent them from procreating. The last state to finally end the practice was North Carolina, and it didn’t end until the 1980s.

Citizens are aghast at the atrocities of Stalin, Mao, and Hitler. We would’ve resisted such horrors! Except most of the time we don’t know they’re happening. Because we trust the scientific central planners.

Liberty is Life

We don’t understand reality.

Hayek famously said the “curious task of economics is to demonstrate to men how little they really know about what they imagine they can design”.

Not just economics. The task of every thinking person is to discover the limits of our knowledge. To replace answers with questions, arrogance with curiosity, intellectual death with life.

One of the greatest casualties in rule by diktat is experimentation and discovery. We don’t know anything about the human body, virology, epidemiology, or any of the other specialized fields of human health. The absurdity of assuming one small body can accurately surmise and prescribe a single path for all people in all places and times is beyond the pale.

Millions of messy experiments. People with dramatically different risk tolerances, trying dramatically different approaches. Sharing their feedback. Profiting from effectiveness, losing from error. This dynamic churn is the source of all progress. To decree a single plan backed by the threat of murder (as every single government law is) is to destroy humanity’s best hope of flourishing.

Julian Simon famously shot down the doomsdayers who fear human life and liberty above all (excepting of course their own) by winning a bet about the availability of resources as population expands. But his bet was a gimmick compared to the profound insight of his masterful book, The Ultimate Resource. Simon points out that individual humans, free to explore and try and fail and succeed and compete, are the source of progress not only for the human race, but the entire natural world.

We are relentless problem solvers. But we do it in messy ways not fun to watch and even harder to catalog in textbooks. We teach and learn through experience and consequences. We progress when we do the most outlandish things all the smart people thought were pointless. Our glories and triumphs are utterly illegible. Historians and bureaucrats have no choice but to guess, fudge, lie, and misinform, because to accurately chart the true path and nature of progress is impossible.

We don’t know what ingredients matter most or what will work best. That is precisely why we need the free and open contest of liberty to discover it.

It is the same with ideas. John Milton said it is best to let truth and falsehood grapple, because truth is the stronger in the long run. The sycophantic obeisance by every major media outlet and online platform to moronic political power-seekers is the opposite of this dynamic discovery process. Labels and warnings about “fake news”, removing ideas that deviate from those spouted by humanity’s lowest lifeforms (politicians and bureaucrats), and propping up “official” ideas are bad for curiosity, bad for liberty, bad for progress, and bad for life.

The Renegades

Historian Thaddeus Russell (driven from academia by the mindless literatti) documents how the least reputable people tend to expand human freedom, and thereby progress, opportunity, happiness, and meaning. I don’t think you have to be a deviant or a scoundrel in order to enhance liberty, but I do think those who resist the drive for a sanitized world will be labelled as such, and those already labelled as such are less likely to cave to prestige and pressure.

The cold dead hand of Communism could no longer control Poland, not because respectable ideologues educated enough people on the virtues of freedom, but because the illegal underground market became bigger than the respectable above ground one.

Humanity needs gray markets, black markets, shady people, fringey people, all kinds of people running all kinds of experiments. Ideas bumping into ideas and exploding into new ideas. Bad ones. Good ones. Easy ones. Hard ones. Dangerous ones. Safe ones.

Unpredictability, unknowability, dynamism, the organic nature of emergent phenomena, entrepreneurship at the edges, opposition to expert consensus – that is human liberty. That is life.

We don’t need more experts. We don’t need more controls. We don’t need to eradicate variability. We need gritty, dirty, messy, imperfect, unpredictable, wild, untamed, dangerous, beautiful human freedom.

Fuck the cold metallic gloved dead hand of human chess playing technocratic ghouls who want to squelch and contain and document and track and sterilize it to death.

The man who knows freedom will find a way to be free.

Open This Content

Four K-12 Education Models That May Gain Popularity During COVID-19

In just a few weeks, US education has dramatically changed. Schools have been closed for the academic year in most states, and some districts have already canceled their foray into virtual school-at-home this spring, ending the school year early. With more than 50 million US students at home with their families, engaged in varying degrees of quarantine schooling, questions emerge about how long this will last and what education may look like post-pandemic. Most families will be eager to resume their previous routines, returning to school and work as soon as it’s allowed, likely with strong social distancing measures in place. But some families may be curious about K-12 education models that favor personalization, small group learning environments, high-quality virtual programming and other innovative alternatives.

While most of us have been forced to work and learn from home for the past two months, separated from our colleagues and community, some employers and employees are finding that working from home has its benefits, including higher productivity gains and lower costs. A recent Brookings Institution report reveals that we “may see a more permanent shift toward telecommuting” continuing long after the pandemic ends. Similarly, some students are finding that they prefer this pandemic distance learning experiment over traditional schooling. Additionally, a recent survey by EdChoice finds that more than half of respondents have a more favorable view of homeschooling as a result of the pandemic, suggesting a rising openness to different K-12 learning models. As parents experience a growing cultural embrace of teleworking that can create more workplace freedom and flexibility, they may also look to grant this freedom and flexibility to their children, seeking educational options beyond a conventional classroom.

Here are four K-12 education models that will likely get increased attention over the coming months:

Forest Schools

Forest preschools and outdoor early childhood programs were already gaining traction prior to the pandemic. The New York Times reported last summer that “nature-based preschools have seen a tidal wave of interest in recent years,” pointing to survey data from a national organization that represents nature preschools and forest kindergartens. These programs prioritize ample outside time, natural play and exploration, typically with small class sizes and enthusiastic educators who enjoy helping children to learn in and from nature in all kinds of weather.

As conventional schools implement social distancing measures that may include staggered attendance to keep class sizes down and avoid over-crowded school buildings, some families may look to full-time programs that already focus on small groups and outside learning. Christine Heer, M.Ed. and Lisa Henderson are the co-owners of Sprouts, the first licensed farm and forest kindergarten in Massachusetts. They explain that their program is held almost entirely outdoors and already provides adequate space necessary for safe interactions between children and teachers. Heer expects that programs like Sprouts will become a model for other early childhood programs coping with reopening amidst the pandemic, as well as a magnet for parents exploring other educational options.

Heer explains: “COVID-19 is now forcing communities to look at new ways of offering safe, healthy options for education at all levels and we are convinced that programs like ours will attract the attention of parents and educators as we reconsider how to bring children back into childcare and preschool settings in a safe, stress-free way.” Henderson adds: “We will be making some slight adjustments when we return to Sprouts, like creating a hands-free hand washing station and keeping lunch boxes in individual backpacks instead of mixing them together in a crate. We believe that nature-immersive programs are the perfect fit to address the stress-free, healthy environments we will need to provide for families.”

Microschools

The push toward smaller, less institutionalized learning environments may also be a boost for the burgeoning microschool movement. Microschools usually operate out of homes or local community organizations and typically have no more than a dozen K-12 students, of varying ages. Often microschools operate as hybrid homeschool programs, where young people are registered as homeschoolers but attend a microschool either full- or part-time, taking classes and engaging with teachers and mentors. Sometimes microschools operate through state charter school programs, such as Arizona-based Prenda, a fast-growing network of in-home microschools that is tuition-free for Arizona residents. New microschool models may gain momentum as parents seek a consistent, in-person learning environment for their children that emphasizes personalization and small class sizes.

If history offers any lessons as to what might happen when schools reopen, it’s possible that many parents may continue to keep their children at home, at least in the short-term. NPR recently highlighted historical research by health care economist, Melissa Thomasson, who found that when New York City schools reopened during the 1916 polio epidemic, approximately one-quarter of the city’s schoolchildren stayed home, prompting the city to temporarily loosen its compulsory attendance laws. If this happens during our current pandemic, neighbors may decide to form their own in-home learning co-ops, taking turns caring for and educating each other’s children while balancing their own work schedules. Well-regarded homeschool programs, such as Oak Meadow and Clonlara, could see a bump in sales as parents look for curriculum guidance beyond, or in addition to, virtual learning, and new curriculum offerings could emerge to meet growing demand.

Virtual Degree Programs

By necessity, the pandemic has introduced many parents and children to the possibility of virtual learning. While we may all clamor for face-to-face interaction again, we are likely more comfortable with online connections and learning and working remotely than we were prior to this stay-at-home experience. Some students are finding that they prefer online education, and parents may be curious about virtual learning options going forward. Many states offer tuition-free virtual public school options, such as those provided through K12. Some colleges and universities are beginning to offer rigorous online programs for high school students that combine earning an accredited high school diploma with college credits, giving young people more autonomy and flexibility in their learning, while helping to defray college tuition costs.

Affiliated with Arizona State University, ASU Prep Digital is a fully online, accredited high school that incorporates college credits into its curriculum. The online school is tuition-free for Arizona residents, and the full-time accelerated program for out-of-state students costs just under $7,000 a year. Supporting the expansion of education choice mechanisms, such as education savings accounts, vouchers and tax-credit scholarship programs, can help more families to opt out of their assigned district school and select other education options that may otherwise be financially out-of-reach.

New online learning programs will also likely sprout during and after this pandemic, as parents and students become more at ease with, and supportive of, virtual education. One virtual school startup, Sora Schools, is already seeing more interest in its nascent, project-based program that serves high schoolers across the country. “We’ve actually been growing a lot in the last couple of months,” says cofounder Indra Sofian. “Recently we’ve had many conversations with parents who are not prepared to fully homeschool their children and parents who were concerned about the impact of COVID-19 on their students’ schooling in the fall. We’re currently projecting to enroll at least 50 students based on our current growth rate by the fall.” As many investors shift their portfolios toward edtech startups during the pandemic, it is likely that online education options and virtual learning tools will continue to expand in the coming months.

Homeschooling

Even though pandemic homeschooling is nothing like the real thing, the finding that parents have a more favorable impression of homeschooling now than before is a strong signal that at least some of them will choose the homeschooling option even when schools reopen. A recent informal survey conducted by Corey DeAngelis of the Reason Foundation found that 15 percent of parents say they will choose homeschooling when schools reopen. If these parents have warmed up to homeschooling under these difficult social distancing circumstances, just wait until they can actually leave the house, go to the library and museums, gather with friends, take community classes and so on.

Images have started to appear of what back-to-school looks like in some countries as children return to school. Some parents might be turned off by the idea of their children wearing masks and face shields all day, as well as learning in spread out classrooms, and may choose homeschooling, at least until the pandemic ends. With more parents likely to continue teleworking post-pandemic, job flexibility may also allow for more learning flexibility, as parents discover that they don’t have to be the ones teaching their homeschooled children but rather connecting them to both in-person and online tutors, mentors, classes and other resources.

COVID-19 has disrupted much of the way we live and learn, and will continue to do so for the foreseeable future. Forest schools, microschools, online learning programs and homeschooling will likely become increasingly popular in the coming months, as parents search for other education options beyond their local school. While some private schools are shutting down as a result of the pandemic, unable to cope with the economic shock, this can be a great time for visionary entrepreneurs to create more nimble K-12 learning models that give parents and learners the high-quality, flexible and safe academic environment they want.

Open This Content

Ready or Not, the Lockdown Season is Coming to an End

On May 15, city officials declared Atwater, California a “sanctuary city.” Not for undocumented immigrants, but for businesses and churches who choose to ignore governor Gavin Newsom’s COVID-19-related shutdown orders. The city won’t be enforcing the governor’s edicts. Those edicts, mayor Paul Creighton told local businesses, are “between you and the state of California.”

“We’re not going to tolerate people starting to congregate,” mayor Bill de Blasio whined all the way across the country in New York City, center of the country’s deadliest COVID-19 outbreak so far. Even as he spoke, crowds descended on area beaches and congregated for sidewalk soirees outside bars forbidden to do sit-down business but selling cocktails to go.

About the same time, I heard a store owner in my part of Florida explain to a customer that while there is in fact a county order (posted on every business enterprise’s door) requiring customers to wear masks inside stores, “I’m not a county enforcer.” Some customers wore masks. Some didn’t. Most stores I visited obviously had the same policy, whether they announced it quite so brazenly or not.

Americans, it seems, are collectively deciding amongst ourselves that COVID-19 lockdown time is over. Our  decision isn’t up for debate or subject to appeal. Politicians and their pet “experts”  are fresh out of veto power. For better or worse — almost certainly some of both — America is opening back up.

On the plus side, the economy, although taking a hit, may be cranking back up in time to avert severe food shortages and other potentially deadly supply chain problems this coming fall and winter.

On the minus side, the virus is still out there. We’re almost certainly going to see new outbreaks and spikes in old outbreak centers as time goes on.

A side effect of those outbreaks and spikes will be calls for renewed lockdowns. Those may even happen in a scattered way at the local level.

But America’s  Andrew Cuomos and Gretchen Whitmers and Gavin Newsoms presumably know that their political futures — and maybe even their physical safety — are on the line here and that they’re fresh out of shenanigans passes. There won’t be any more state-level Mussolini cosplay.

The Iron Curtain was drawn tightly shut for 45 years.

The Berlin Wall stood for three decades.

Lockdown America didn’t even make it to the three-month mark.

That’s a good thing. It’s a harbinger of hope for a freer future.

Open This Content

Reflections on the Krikorian-Caplan Soho Forum Debate

Thanks again to Gene Epstein and Reason for sponsoring last week’s immigration debate between myself and Mark Krikorian.  Thanks to Mark, too, for debating before an unsympathetic audience.  The resolution, you may recall, was: The current pandemic makes it all the more necessary for the federal government to tighten restrictions on immigration.

Here are my extra thoughts on the exchange.

1. I was stunned that Mark did not think we should limit immigration to help fight contagious disease.  While this position is deeply flawed, it has great surface appeal.  I have to think that most of his supporters would endorse it enthusiastically.  Hopefully he’ll strive set them straight, though I doubt it.  (Prove me wrong, Mark, prove me wrong).

2. Instead, Mark dusted off the classic populist argument that we should limit immigration to fight high unemployment.  Since he never argued in favor of immigration a few months ago when unemployment was at a 50-year low, one can’t take him too seriously.  As I keep saying, immigration restriction is a solution in search of a problem.

In any case, this is a textbook example of misguided recession policy.  Yes, deliberately restricting production during a recession can help some workers, but only at the expense of consumers (most of whom are workers in other industries).   When Roosevelt ordered the destruction of food during the Great Depression, he helped farmers, but only by depriving the rest of the population of affordable calories.  Excluding immigrants, similarly, helps competing native workers, but only by depriving the rest of the population of the goods and services immigrants produce.  Wise recession policy focuses on reviving production, not destructive redistribution.

3. Curiously, Mark granted that during this crisis, we should not exclude foreign agricultural workers.  His logic is hazy.  Today offers a prime opportunity to help native farm workers at the expense of native food consumers.  If you think that’s good policy in general, why not here and now?  The real story, I suspect, is that slashing the food supply during a crisis would be highly visible – and Mark wants to keep the costs of immigration restriction hidden.  I’d be amazed if Mark thought now was a good time to let in more foreign agricultural workers; if the existing number is temporarily good during this emergency, though, why stop there?

4. Mark combines this concession on immigrant farm workers with a bizarre long-run plan to wean U.S. agriculture off its “addiction” to cheap foreign labor.  Yes, a large fall in labor supply would induce mechanization.  But as long as human labor is cheaper, what’s good about switching?  Mark’s central argument is aesthetic; in this modern age, people shouldn’t be digging around in the Earth like “serfs.”  (His word).  This is economically absurd.  As long as the low-tech approach is cheaper than the high-tech approach, the low-tech approach is better.  Sure, we could force-feed mechanization.  If we taxed human-powered lawn-mowers, we’d switch sooner to robotic mowers.  The wise course, though, is to wait until upgrading actually makes us better off.

(Mark did vaguely allude to a technological path-dependence argument, but those are a dime a dozen even when fully fleshed-out).

5. Toward the end of our debate, Mark claimed that our fundamental difference is that he takes our obligations to fellow Americans seriously, while I think our obligation is to all mankind.  I agree that this is a difference, but it’s not fundamental.  Why not?  Because if I were an American nationalist, I would still favor open borders in order to maximize Americans’ standard of living.

6. What then is our fundamental difference?  I say it comes down to misanthropy.  Mark hears about a human being who wants to immigrate here – and presumes he’s going to make our lives worse.  Sure, he’s glad that we got Albert Einstein on our team, but negativity is Mark’s default.  My default is exactly the opposite.  When I hear about a human being who wants to immigrate here, I presume he’s going to make our lives better.  Yes, he could be the next Hitler, but the odds are astronomically against it.  The vast majority of human beings make valuable contributions to the world, even though some of us contribute far more than others.  That’s what the history of the U.S. shows, and what our future history is going to show.

7. Is Mark really a misanthrope?  Notice how he responds when an audience member asks him about government regulation of natives’ child-bearing.  He doesn’t try to argue that native babies grow up to be better people than immigrants.  He explicitly disavows the idea that we’re “superior” to people from other lands.  The concrete social effects of an extra native or an extra immigrant should therefore be comparable.  And since he deems the typical immigrant to be a negative, he should think the same about the typical native as well.  While Mark opposes government regulation of natives’ child-bearing, his rationale is not about consequences, but our “social contract.”  Americans are entitled to have as many kids as they want, even if they’re a burden on society.  Would-be immigrants, in contrast, are only entitled to burden their own societies.  So while we’re obligated to put up with burdensome Americans, we can and should refuse all those burdensome foreigners.

By the way, the misanthropy is palpable if you peruse the main page for the Center for Immigration Studies.  See for yourself; it really is monomaniacal collection of complaints about immigrants.  Assembling an analogous collection of ceaseless negativity about any human group – or humanity in general – would be child’s play.  Just let your inner pessimist fly.

8. The most intellectually solid case for immigration restriction is that natives are civilized, while immigrants are awful barbarians.  (Remember “rapefugees”?)  Why doesn’t Mark defend this position?  The charitable story is that he knows it’s false.  But if so, why doesn’t he try harder to disabuse his fellow restrictionists of their xenophobic pessimism?  The better story, I’m afraid, is Social Desirability Bias.  Calling immigrants “awful barbarians” makes you sound like a mean person, so Mark won’t endorse this position – or even engage it.  Social Desirability Bias elegantly explains why his organization puts the nonsensical “low immigration, pro-immigrant” motto on its masthead instead of a more honest slogan like, “Savages are at our gates!”

9. Suppose we accept Mark’s view that we have special obligations to our fellow Americans, just as parents have special obligations to their own children.  If you take this analogy seriously, you should still be very nervous that the United States is callously violating the rights of foreigners.  After all, parents’ sense of love and obligation for their children often leads them to mistreat strangers for their children’s benefit.  (Remember the quaint “College-gate” scandal of 2019?)  Shouldn’t we similarly expect nations’ sense of love and obligation for their citizens to lead them to mistreat foreigners for their citizens’ benefit?  It would be amazing if it didn’t.

10. Mark casually dismisses estimates of the massive economic gains of open borders.  It’s only a model; and the problem with models, as faulty coronavirus projections show, is: Garbage In, Garbage Out.

The real story, though, is that economists who work with trade models are well-aware of their potential limitations.  If immigration leads to bad economic policies, for example, simple models are overly optimistic.  However, that realization is only the first step.  The next step is to look at the data and measure how much immigration is likely to degrade the quality of economic policy.  That’s what I do in Open Borders, and I conclude that the effect if any is tiny.  The same goes for the other major challenges to the simple model.  And while we’re checking the model for excessive optimism, it’s also worth checking it for excessive pessimism; most notably, the standard Clemens model completely ignores the effect of immigration on innovation.

Further point: Even if Mark were right to reject predictions about the economic effects of extreme liberalization, he has no reason to dismiss predictions about the economic effects of moderate liberalization.  Maybe letting in a billion foreigners would destroy our institutions, but letting in ten million won’t.  Frankly, it seems like he’s more interesting in categorically dismissing a model with uncomfortable results than in figuring out the extent to which the model is true.

Open This Content

Well Done, Billionaires

I ran into a neighbor on the street the other day and we chatted about life at home during COVID-19 and how we are all coping with social distancing. I mentioned how grateful I am that our nearby Whole Foods market seems well-stocked (except for toilet paper).

She made a comment about how billionaires like Jeff Bezos, founder and CEO of Amazon, which also owns Whole Foods, should really be less greedy and share their wealth. (She didn’t know that Bezos has donated $100 million to US food banks during the pandemic, but charity is beside the point.)

The dominant narrative that billionaires are greedy and big companies like Amazon are monopolistic, exploitative tyrants is not only misguided but deeply troubling for the future of prosperity and human progress. This rhetoric is nothing new. Successful businesspeople have long been smeared as robber barons who take and take, detracting from the “common good.” But this rhetoric and these smear campaigns fail to recognize just how much these billionaires give. And I don’t mean give in terms of charity.

They give by doing, by building, by creating, by inventing. They give by making products or offering services that people want to buy at a price they want to pay in pursuit of things they want to do, and employing thousands of people who choose to work for a wage they choose to accept.

They give by creating value for people, free of force and in an open marketplace of voluntary exchange. In the case of Amazon and Bezos, it got big and he got wealthy by building a superior product that millions of people freely choose to use because they can get goods they want at lower prices and faster speeds, freeing up their precious time and resources to devote to their own personal pursuits.

Amazon is a marvel of modern enterprise, and is one of the few companies keeping our emaciated economy from completely collapsing during this public health shutdown. Instead of disdain, the people who built these companies deserve our respect and appreciation. They are the builders and the creators, the thinkers and the doers. Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt reinforced this point recently in a virtual presentation to the Economic Club of New York. He said:

Think about what your life would be like in America without Amazon, for example. The benefit of these corporations — which we love to malign — in terms of the ability to communicate … the ability to get information, is profound — and I hope people will remember that when this thing is finally over. So let’s be a little bit grateful that these companies got the capital, did the investment, built the tools that we’re using now and have really helped us out. Imagine having the same reality of this pandemic without these tools.

Yes, imagine. In her classic book, Atlas Shrugged, Ayn Rand did just that, showing what life would be like if we mistake success for greed, achievement for exploitation, and progress for oppression. Billionaires, like Bezos, who have built great companies contribute daily to the “common good”—not only through charity, but through human ingenuity and the progress and prosperity that produces for all of us. During this pandemic, Audible, an Amazon company, is offering hundreds of its children’s audiobooks, and many of its adult books as well, for free. Atlas Shrugged is one of them.

We can, and should, balk at attempts to corrupt the process of voluntary exchange when business and government become entangled. That isn’t capitalism, it’s cronyism and it poisons the promise of free markets.

Economist Dan Mitchell describes the difference as being pro-market or pro-business, with the former acting as a champion of free enterprise and trade while the latter relies on government handouts and business buffers in the form of subsidies and bailouts.

Government officials trying to woo Amazon with subsidies and preferential treatment to build additional headquarters in a particular city is an obvious example of being pro-business at the expense of a dynamic free market.

Entrepreneurs like Jeff Bezos assume enormous risk and invest significant time, energy, and resources into inventing products and services that people want and need. They spot an opportunity to create value for others, and build a business around that idea using their own originality and will. If they succeed in creating something that others value, they will be rewarded financially; but even Jeff Bezos isn’t as rich as you think. Most billionaire wealth is inextricably linked to the companies they built, continuing to generate value for others, continuing to give.

Open This Content