Reopening isn’t Politicians’ Call

To open or not to open; that is the question. But it’s the wrong question.

While there’s plenty of debate and disagreement over allowing businesses to re-open; when and how it should be done, the discussion misses the point completely.

No one had the right to shut down businesses they didn’t own. You don’t have the right to tell someone they must shut their business and you can’t delegate a right you don’t have. Not to a governor or anyone else. This means the authority to tell businesses to close shop, even temporarily due to an emergency, doesn’t exist.

The same applies to telling people they aren’t allowed to leave their house or to gather with groups of friends. To forbid people to gather is a clear violation of the First Amendment even if you agree and even if government employees are allowed to get away with it.

Nowhere does the Constitution say “unless there is an emergency and people are scared.” I know because I’ve checked.

Government employees can get away with making these rules because the people of America have been infected with a superstitious belief in political authority.

I understand the fears that lead people to accept such orders, even though I don’t share them.

I still believe you should be careful and shouldn’t do things that put others at too much risk.

Respecting liberty is always the right choice, but there are risks either way.

There is no policy that won’t cost lives. That option doesn’t exist, even in normal times. The best you can do with any policy is trade lives. Ignoring the virus would have cost lives; shutting the economy is costing lives; seeking some sort of middle ground costs lives, too. It’s time to stop this silliness.

The ethical thing to do is to remove government from the equation, let business owners decide when and how to re-open, and let individuals decide for themselves the amount of risk they are willing to accept.

If someone is not willing to accept risk to save America, they are perfectly free to self-quarantine inside their homes as I would assume they have already been doing.

This virus — or any other — is going to have to run its course, whether it happens in a month or in a year. It’s time to accept this and let it. I think you’ll discover the fear-mongering was overblown.

So, open or stay shut, but it was never the politicians’ decision to make.

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What Motivates a Billionaire?

Is money the only possible motivation for a politician or politically active individual? Of course not. It can be the main motivation for those who aren’t rich yet, but once someone is rich they still have to be motivated to use the political means against their fellow humans.

Otherwise they wouldn’t.

To pretend that a billionaire only has your best interests in mind since he doesn’t need more money is to ignore all the other factors which could be motivating him. It is also ignoring the fact that being a billionaire doesn’t automatically satisfy the hunger for money.

He might want even more money.

He might want power.

He may have delusions of godhood.

He might actually want to make people suffer.

He might be insane.

He might honestly believe his ideas are good, but be frustrated that people don’t willingly comply, so he cheats and uses politics to force compliance with his idea that’s so great he has to force people to go along.

To imagine that the only explanation is that he’s a wonderful, caring person who only wants to ensure the flourishing of humanity is to ignore that he is using the political means instead of the economic means. That means, no matter what he is motivated by, or what good he believes he is doing, he’s carrying out his plans in the most evil way possible. Even if you like what he’s doing and support him.

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Coronaggravation

Thursday I had my first almost-explosion over this coronavirus shut-down nonsense. My patience is running low.

I’m getting tired of businesses not being allowed to open normally, and I’m also getting tired of “karens” who think it’s their business to point accusatory fingers at those who have had enough of the ridiculous (and counterproductive) rules and have begun to ignore them. I said a few weeks ago that people had reached “peak panic” and were going to stop responding to fear-mongering.

No, a group of people sitting in the park is NOT the reason the pandemic shut-downs are still with us. They may be our only hope of getting past this in a reasonable amount of time. Sure, health care workers and cashiers (in those businesses allowed to be open) are heroic, but so are those ignoring the “social distancing rules” and risking interaction with legislation enforcement officers. Especially when those in the group appear to be old enough to be in the higher risk group. Thank you!

As I watch just about all my earliest predictions and observations come to be grudgingly admitted as likely truth by more and more “experts” (and others saying they knew this all along), the stupidity of the shut-downs gets more and more obvious.

No, I wasn’t “downplaying the risk”; I was being more realistic about the situation than any of the well-paid “experts”. Time is telling who was more right. Confirmation bias? Maybe. But the posts are here to read.

There is still no rational alternative but to open up everything normally and let the virus spread naturally so it can fizzle out on its own. As viruses do. No rational alternative AT ALL! The longer this is delayed, the more harm that is done.

Yet, politicians can’t stand the thought of giving up their newfound power to control. They feel growing pressure to ease away from some of the restrictions they love, which are growing more unpopular every day, but they are going to drag their feet as much as they can. Can’t back off of DOING THE WRONG THINGS too quickly, or…? “Something bad“…? I feel a growing hatred for those political vermin… and there was no love there before.

You can depend on politically-oriented people to always do the wrong thing, for too long, and to resist ending it in the face of evidence that they are wrong and making things worse. Their precious power is more important to them than just about anything else. Your life is just a speed-bump– and not a very noticeable one in their eyes.

It would be one thing if this were a natural disaster and there were actual reasons businesses couldn’t open or that people couldn’t gather, but this is a natural event turned into a disaster by politics. Politics makes people stupid!

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The Coronavirus Trolley Problem

The coronavirus and governmental responses to it are one messy trolley problem. Should you sacrifice some to save others? No, I don’t think you should. It’s a fake choice.

As always, I think it’s better to choose to do nothing than to make a forced choice to do something which will violate someone’s life, liberty, or property. In fact, I believe that’s usually the only responsible choice– to refuse to be forced into a choice which will kill (or otherwise violate) others.

So, if a thug is holding me and some others at gunpoint and tells me I must choose who he shoots or he’ll shoot us all, I think it would be wrong of me to cooperate and play his “game” (unless I saw a way to stall and turn the tables on him).

I get that I’m in the minority on this. Most people believe you’ve got to act, even if by acting you’re going to sacrifice someone no matter what. That’s also apparently the thinking behind v*ting. I don’t buy it.

If my choice is to sacrifice Individual A or sacrifice Individual B, I may refuse to make any choice and let physics, biology, or chemistry do its thing. I accept I don’t know enough to make choices for other people.

I also think you can’t know which way is better in many cases. You might believe that by sacrificing Individual A you’ll save lots of people, but it turns out you killed Individual A for nothing and people died anyway. Maybe more than otherwise would have. Everyone would have been better off if you didn’t allow arrogance to cause you to make a choice that was never yours to make. Politicians (and often, the politically-minded non-politicians) are full of that kind of arrogance.

So, yes, I am saying that while I believe it would have been OK for government employees (as long as they exist anyway) to have made recommendations and suggestions aimed at reducing the coronavirus cases, it was unequivocally wrong of them to make and enforce any policies regarding the pandemic. By pulling that lever, they made a choice they had no right to make. Choosing who lives and who dies in such a case is NOT an “adult decision”; nothing is more childish and self-centered than to fall into that pit.

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The Other Great Shutdown

Here’s my opening statement for last night’s Soho Forum debate with Mark Krikorian.


I’ve debated Mark Krikorian on immigration many times before, but today’s crisis provides a new and gripping argument against immigration.  Almost anyone can see the force of it: Coronavirus originated in China, migration brought it here, and suddenly life is terrible.  Dogmatic libertarians can keep droning on about “liberty,” but everyone else now plainly sees that strict immigration controls could have stopped this plague – and only strict immigration controls can stop the plagues of the future.

This argument sounds so right.  What could possibly be wrong with it?

Let’s start by backing up.  Before the coronavirus, did we have anything close to open borders?  Of course not; Mark himself has conceded this point in prior debates.  Under open borders, the U.S. could easily have tens of millions of immigrants annually.  A conservative estimate says that our borders are normally 95% closed.  I say it’s more like 98% closed.

So what?  Even with our borders 98% closed, the virus had no trouble spreading here on a massive scale.  Once a few sick people enter your country, it spreads far and wide.  The same is true all over the world.  The United Kingdom is an island nation, but it has the second-highest body count on Earth.   So it seems like we couldn’t have solved our problem with moderate further restrictions; we’d need to virtually end immigration altogether.  But would that be enough?  No way.  You would also have to virtually end international tourism, too.  That doesn’t just mean keeping foreign tourists out; it also means keeping domestic tourists in.  Or at least tell your own citizens, “If you leave, you can’t come back.”

The upshot: Even cutting immigration down to Japanese levels would do very little about contagion.  Instead, it looks like you would have to approach North Korea’s policy of “no-one-gets-in-or-out-alive.”

At this point, you might be wondering, “Well, couldn’t we allow tourism, but simply require a strict supervised two-week quarantine for all international travelers?”  Indeed you could.  Sadly, this is so burdensome it would practically eliminate international tourism.  Perhaps people would take one or two international trips per lifetime, spending two weeks in quarantine on arrival and return.  But that’s about it.  The benefit of tourism is too modest to offset weeks of confinement.

Now we reach the trillion-dollar question: What would be enough to offset weeks of confinement?  The indubitable answer is: the opportunity to permanently immigrate!  If you’re already willing to leave your country of birth to build a new life for yourself, two weeks of quarantine only modestly increases the cost.  Even seasonal migrants would endure quarantine; they might lose a month of time on a round-trip, but U.S. agricultural wages are about five times as high as Mexico’s.  The punchline, then, is that if you are mortally afraid of contagion, what you need to stop is not immigration but tourism.

Which is, by the way, the opposite of what is likely to happen, because we have long been ruled by innumerate, hysterical demagogues.

An immigration policy of open borders combined with a two-week quarantine would, in my view, be an immense improvement over the status quo.  I’d say that would move the border from 98% closed to 95% open.  If contagion were your sole objection to immigration, this is the policy you should favor.

I know, of course, that people have a long list of other objections to immigration.  Indeed, as far as I recall, this is my first debate with Mark where he even mentioned contagion.  Instead, he’s primarily relied on cultural objections, while downplaying immigration’s economic benefits.

Which makes me wonder: Has the present crisis shed any new light on our earlier disagreements?  The answer: Yes on both counts.

Culturally, the crisis has shown that Americans have a lot to learn from other cultures.  Our way of handling contagion has been clumsy at best.  Maybe we should have learned from Singapore and South Korea, maybe we should have learned from Iceland and Sweden.  What Americans definitely shouldn’t do is look in the mirror and admire our wonderfully functional culture.  We’re not the worst on Earth, but now is a fine time to embrace a curious cosmopolitan perspective.

The economic lesson of the crisis is truly clear-cut.  Since mid-March, the greatest economy in human history has been in “shutdown” or “lockdown.”  Our standard of living has crashed, and unemployment is near the level of the Great Depression.  Why?  Because we have temporarily annulled the right of free migration within the United States. Let me repeat that: Our standard of living has crashed because we have temporarily annulled the right of free migration within the United States. Americans are no longer able to work and shop where they like.  The result is not a minor inconvenience, but disaster.  We are suddenly stuck in a post-apocalyptic movie.  I detest hyperbole.  But this, my friends, is no hyperbole.

What would we think, however, if this economic shutdown had existed for all of living memory?  We’d probably be content with the only life we’ve ever known.  We only know what we’re missing because – until very recently – we had it.  And we all look forward to a future where we can restore free migration within the United States and regain its immense benefits.

What does this have to do with immigration?  To quote Obi-Wan Kenobi, “More than you possibly can imagine.”  In normal times, current immigration law keeps the whole world on permanent lockdown.  While people can usually move freely within their countries of birth, governments strictly regulate international mobility.  This regulation traps billions of people in unproductive backwaters of the global economy.  Current policies don’t just needlessly impoverish all the would-be migrants eager to build better lives for themselves.  They also impoverish their billions of customers.  The secret of mass consumption is mass production.  This is most fundamental lesson of economics.  When you shut down the restaurant industry, you don’t just hurt waiters and chefs; you hurt diners.  When you shut down immigration, you don’t just hurt immigrants; you hurt all the natives who would have purchased the fruits of immigrant labor.

Is the harm of ongoing immigration restriction really comparable to the harm of the coronavirus lockdown?  Definitely.  The highest estimates of the fall in U.S. GDP are about 50%, and that combines the effects of the virus and the policy response.  Estimates of the total damage of immigration restrictions, in contrast, are typically around 50% of global GDP.   In both cases, draconian restrictions on freedom of movement strangle production.

Even the most ardent fans of the coronavirus lockdown do not deny how much their policies have depressed our standard of living and our quality of life.  Even the fans of immigration, in contrast, rarely realize how much the immigration lockdown deprives humanity year after year.  How come almost everyone sees the former cost yet almost no one sees the latter?  Because it’s much easier for human beings to miss wonderful things they used to have than it is to miss wonderful things they’ve yet to experience.

Can we really compare the coronavirus lockdown to the ongoing immigration lockdown?  We can and we should.

The coronavirus lockdown is only temporary and delivers a semi-plausible benefit.  I’m against this lockdown.  But maybe I’m wrong.

The ongoing immigration lockdown, in contrast, has gone on for about a century and delivers benefits so dubious even their fans struggle to articulate or quantify them.  And when we sympathetically examine economic, fiscal, cultural, and political objections to immigration, they turn out to be either flat wrong or greatly overstated.  If you want details, try my new Open Borders: The Science and Ethics of Immigration.  But here’s the quick version.

1. Economic objections to immigration are totally wrong-headed.  To repeat, the secret of mass consumption is mass production, and immigration restrictions strangle production by trapping human talent in low-productivity countries.  A Mexican farmer grows far more food here than he can grow back in Mexico.  Not convinced?  How productive would you be in Mexico?

2. Fiscal objections are flimsy.  Despite the existence of the welfare state, boring apolitical number-crunchers conclude that even low-skilled immigrants are a net fiscal positive for natives, as long as they arrive when they’re young.  You don’t have to take my word for it; if you like looking at numbers, try chapter 7 of the 2017 report from the National Academy of Sciences.

3. Cultural objections are weak, insofar as we can even measure them.  Almost all second-generation immigrants speak fluent English.  Immigrants’ crime rates are lower than natives’.  And advanced statistical work on the effects of nations’ ancestry and average IQ still imply massive gains of immigration.  In a previous debate, I asked Mark Krikorian why he chooses to live in the Capital area, one of the highest-immigration regions of America.  I kind of expected him to say something like, “It’s hell, but I’m sacrificing my well-being so the rest of America doesn’t have to endure the same fate.”  But if I recall correctly, he just shrugged, “It’s complicated.”  I suppose it is complicated, but I can’t understand why you would lead a political crusade against anything “complicated” when the world is still packed with stuff that’s blatantly bad.

4. Political objections, finally, look minor at best.  In the U.S., the foreign-born are, unfortunately, more socially conservative and economically liberal.  But the difference is modest, even immigrants eligible to vote have low turnout, and their descendants assimilate to mainstream American political culture.  It’s not a big deal.  Even if you disagree, why not welcome immigrants to live and work, but not to vote?

I know this is a lot of information in a short space.  I’m happy to expand on any of these topics in the Q&A.  But I predictably stand by the conclusion of Open Borders: Immigration restriction is a solution in search of a problem.  People don’t really know why they want to restrict immigration; they just know that they do.

Even if my book is thoroughly wrong, though, the current crisis provides no bonus argument in favor of immigration restriction.  Tourism – including American travel abroad – may be a problem, but we can safely admit all willing immigrants with a suitable quarantine.  And such a quarantine would do little to discourage immigration, because the gains are astronomical.

Last point: If you fear a world where American citizens, in the name of disease prevention, lose their basic freedom to travel abroad, I share your fear.  But when you cherish this freedom, please remember that the vast majority of the world’s population has lacked this freedom for about a century.  Even the world’s poorest people can scrape together the money to get here; what most will never get is the government paperwork that allows them to live and work in peace.  Our shutdown will end in the foreseeable future.  The world’s shutdown will endure until we see it for needless cruelty it is.

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Smallest Actions Can Have Big Effects

It’s a quirk of human nature that a crisis can bring people together, bring out our best, and give our lives meaning. Sure, it can also bring out the worst in some damaged people, but we can acknowledge their existence then continue to ignore them as insignificant.

A threat to life, liberty, and property is terrible, but you can find some good in it if you look. People love to unite against a common enemy, whether it’s a virus or grotesque alien overlords from a galaxy far, far away, Washington D.C., or Santa Fe.

Like them or not, the protests against the shut-downs are a show of unity between people who might otherwise have little in common. As are the hordes of people joining together online to complain about the protests.

There are others who ignore the political bickering; staying busy doing what they can to help. Legions of people are currently hunched over their sewing machines at home, whipping up face masks and gowns for those who want them. There are business owners all over the country exploring new ways to serve their customers, keep their businesses running and their employees employed.

What can you do?

Even if you don’t quite know what to do, the smallest things can have big effects in your own life.

A walk in the sunshine and fresh air can make you feel like you’re actively fighting the coronavirus. At least you’re getting a little exercise, which is known to be one of the best ways to boost your immune system. Plus, letting others see you out doing something rather than cowering at home can encourage them that this is not the end.

Lending a hand when you find the opportunity has also been shown to help you while you help others.

I’ve been writing almost every day since 2006 to promote liberty and to encourage people to accept their responsibility to not violate others. Giving hope to those who value liberty, and trying to help people keep their heads together during these strange times, while others apparently want to stampede them, is something small I can do.

Do you feel as though your contributions to society are now more meaningful? If not, you may be missing out on something special. Something that will make you feel better while doing the same for those around you. It doesn’t need to be something big. It’s probably something you already know how to do.

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