The Broader Effects of Trade and Tech

Quite a few people consciously favor “free markets, but not free migration.”  When questioned, many explain that unlike free markets in goods, free markets in labor have “broad social effects.”  At this point, I have to suppress my urge to exclaim, “Are you out of your minds?”  They’re right, of course, that free migration has broad social effects.  They’re crazy, however, to imagine that free markets in goods lack these effects.  Indeed, at least within the observed range, ordinary market forces have changed society far more than immigration.

Start with international trade.  If the U.S. were a closed economy, manufacturing would still have shrunk, but it would remain a major source of employment.  The Rust Belt would be doing far better – and less eager for a populist political savior.  Opioid and alcohol use among the working class would likely be considerably lower.  Families would be more stable.  College attendance and the college premium would have risen more modestly.  More speculatively, church attendance would be higher, and nerd culture less dominant.

The broader effects of international trade are however dwarfed by the broader effects of all the technological progress that market forces unleash.  I remember life before the Internet.  When I was a teenager, I was almost completely intellectually isolated.  Overcoming boredom was a constant challenge.  There were no cyberbullies; we had real bullies instead.  When I wanted to publicly speak my mind, I wrote letters to the newspaper.  I had zero friends outside the U.S.  My parents and I were routinely out of contact for hours at a time.  I still feel young, but I remember a world that most EconLog readers would find primitive.

Nor is the Internet an isolated example.  The automobile has broad social effects.  So did household appliances.  So did modern contraception.  Obviously.

The pro-market, anti-migration thinkers could demur, “Yes, we all know that.  Our real complaint is that the broader effects of immigration are generally bad, while the broader effects of international trade and technological progress are generally good.”  But if that’s the real complaint, I say we’re entitled to a careful accounting of these broader social effects.  Who has even bothered to compile lists of these broader effects, much less try to measure them?

If no one is doing the math, why would anyone think that broad social changes are benign?  By the power of hindsight bias!  Once a major social change happens, people just get used to it, with little doubt about whether the change was in fact a net positive.

Immigration is, of course, the main exception.  We can’t imagine going back to a world without the Internet, automobiles, or contraception.  It doesn’t ultimately matter whether their broad social effects are good or bad; we just have to live them them, because turning back the clock would require draconian tyranny.  We can, however, imagine going back to a world with near-zero immigration, so fretting about the broader effects of immigration has great appeal.  Wouldn’t that require draconian tyranny, too?  Well, since the victims aren’t fellow citizens, no.

My personal view is that the broad social effects of international trade, technological progress, and immigration are all, on balance, positive.  For immigration, I’ve done my homework; for trade and tech, however, I’m only guessing.  What’s clear, however, is that broader social effects are ubiquitous.  Selectively invoking “broader effects” may be rhetorically effective, but it does not make you wise.

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Photo ID is Obsolete and Unnecessary. Facial Recognition Technology Makes it Dangerous.

In mid-May, San Francisco, California became the first American city to ban use of facial recognition surveillance technology by its police department and other city agencies. That’s a wise and ethical policy, as a July 7 piece at the Washington Post proves.

Citing documents gathered by Georgetown Law researchers, the Post reports that at least two federal agencies, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Immigration and Customs Enforcement, have — for years — mined state photo ID databases to populate their own facial recognition databases.

To put a finer point on it, those agencies have been conducting warrantless searches, seizing private biometric data on the entire population of the United States, most of whom are neither charged with, nor suspected of committing, a crime.

They’ve conducted these fishing expeditions not just without warrants, but absent even the fig leaf of legislation from Congress or state legislatures to lend supposed legitimacy to the programs.

The Post story, intentionally or not, makes it clear that Congress must follow San Francisco’s example and ban use of facial recognition technology, as well as repeal its national photo ID (“REAL ID”) scheme, and require federal agencies to delete their facial recognition databases. The states should either lead the way or follow suit by doing away with government-issued photo identification altogether.

Photo ID has always been marginally useful at best. Anyone who’s ever worked at a bar or liquor store knows that it’s unreliable on a visual check — and that its uses have been stretched far beyond its supposed purposes.

The most common form of photo ID is the driver’s license. States imposed their licensing schemes on a seemingly justifiable pretext: A driver’s license proves that the driver whose photograph appears on it has taken and passed a test demonstrating safety and proficiency behind the wheel.

There are ways to do that without a photo.  Three that come to mind are a fingerprint, a digitized summary of an iris scan, or a similar summary of a DNA scan.

Yes, those methods are more expensive and impose a slightly higher burden on law enforcement in identifying a driver who’s been pulled over or arrested (and on anyone else who wants to confirm an individual’s identity). But they’re also far more reliable and less easily used in pulling police-state type abuses like those described in the Post story. They can’t be used for easy warrantless searches via distant cameras.

In recent decades, and especially since 9/11, the conversation over personal privacy has revolved around how much of that privacy “must” be sacrificed to make law enforcement’s job easier.

The answer to that question is “none.”

It’s not an American’s job to make law enforcement’s job easier. It’s law enforcement’s job to respect that American’s rights.

Since law enforcement has continuously  proven itself both unwilling and untrustworthy on that count, we need to deprive it of tools that enable that unwillingness and untrustworthiness.

Photo ID is obsolete and unnecessary. Facial recognition technology makes it dangerous. Let’s take those tools away from their abusers.

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An Anarchist Postive Program

Here are some things that I wrote for an episode of the Anarchy Bang podcast. The episode itself can be found online here.

Introducing An Anarchist Positive Program
Alright, enough with all the negativity, and time to get positive. Now, I know very well that we don’t want this, and we don’t want that. This is fundamentally corrupt and needs to be destroyed, and that is entirely oppressive and needs to be abolished. This is completely fucked-up and needs to be attacked, and that thing over there… well, let’s not even talk about that!

Instead, let’s get clear: what exactly is it that we DO want in terms of “anarchism” and/or “anarchy”? In other words, let’s say that all of the Big Bad Things are made to go away, through some means or another, then what exactly would our brave new anarchist world look like? What specifically would the people in an anarchist society (or “community”, or whatever) be DOING? What is our big End Goal? What’s the beautiful dream?

Back in the day, various books were written about this topic, both non-fiction such as Fields, Factories and Workshops and Bolo’bolo, and fiction such as “The Dispossessed” and “The Fifth Sacred Thing”. And of course there is the whole solarpunk phenomena that is floating around the interwebs. We can talk about these writings, if they describe the kind of anarchist world that you would like to live in. And if not, then fuck it. What’s important is your anarchist dream, your ideal world and what it would look like. Let’s go into it.

_____________________
An Anarchist Positive Program – Editorial
For me anarchism has always been a two-sided coin. There is the destructive “anti” side, the side that says that all forms of capitalism, government, hierarchy, authority, etc. should be completely destroyed ASAP. And then there is the positive side, the part that says that “another world is possible”, and that that world would look something like people coming together voluntarily as equals to cooperate, share and help each other out. My concern is that in recent years the positive side of anarchism has been overlooked, or even forgotten about, while the attack-and-destroy negative side of anarchism has become more of what people think about when they think of the big A-word.

I would like to see this change. I would like to see anarchism become more positive. Now, I know that I may sound stupid and hokey saying this, but I really do believe that positivity in some form really does serve a purpose. I believe that positivity can sustain & nourish people, that it can keep people going. And with a big social-political philosophy like anarchism, it also serves the purpose of providing a sense of direction, a way to orient yourself towards what it is that you do want, instead of just getting away from what you don’t want.

There is an Israeli anarchist guy I’ve known for a long time named Ilan Shalif who recently said this online: “If I had no vision of libertarian communist alternative for human society I would not have survived the full 82 years of my life.” Now, I am definitely not as old as he is, but I do feel the same way he does. Having a vision for what human beings are capable of, in the positive sense and on a large-scale global level, has certainly kept me going all these years that I have been alive. And with the anarchist scene being what it is these days, this positive sense of our human potential has kept me sticking with anarchism, even though there are a million and one reasons presented to me as to why I should leave it all behind.

Let me be clear here, just because human beings have the potential for great and beautiful things does not at all mean that these things will happen. Possibility does not mean inevitability. And likewise, having a wonderful vision for how human society can be does not mean that this vision will ever be realized. In some sense our visions for a future anarchist world are siblings to the fantastic worlds created in science fiction. The difference is that our anarchist visions are of worlds that we actually do believe can happen, and they are ones that we are ostensibly working to make into a reality.

So with this episode, I would like to hear what your anarchist utopia looks like. I would like to hear how your ideal society (or lack thereof) would function, what daily life would be like, how stuff would get done. Would your ideal society keep the old anarchist dream of workers’ councils, neighborhood assemblies and mandated recallable delegates within massive federation structures? Or would you go with more of a 21st century approach and make collective decisions via directly voting for things on your smartphone that is connected with a mesh network and uses heavy encryption? Or would you keep things really old school and instead have humanity be organized the way it was for most of its history, as small bands and tribes of nomadic hunter-gatherers?

Speaking for myself, the centerpiece of my ideal anarchist society would be authentic heartfelt connection between people. So my ideal anarchist world would have people taking the time and effort to be honest with themselves and those around them, really taking the time to listen to and understand those around them, and working through the conflicts and difficulties that inevitably arise in human relationships. My ideal anarchist world would then have specific times and spaces set aside for people to do this kind of messy personal/interpersonal kind of work. And then with that foundation in place, the whole gamut of non-hierarchical meeting facilitation processes and organizational systems can be utilized to help the various “councils”, “assemblies”, “tribes” and “collectives” run more smoothly and harmoniously than a group of alienated antagonistic people using Robert’s Rules of Order or Formal Consensus would ever be able to.

And then, ultimately, we would have bad-ass anarchist colonies on Mars, the asteroid belt, and the rest of the solar system. That is my dream, anyway….

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Marianne Williamson is Right About American Elections

Self-help guru Marianne Williamson isn’t likely to win the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, despite having probably served the American public more ably than any of her opponents (among other things, her Project Angel Food delivers millions of meals to the seriously ill).  Good works aside, she’s a little too “New Age,”  spiritual, and individualist/voluntarist-oriented for a population  increasingly viewing coercive government as its living and unquestionable God.

That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t listen to her, though, especially when she points out major flaws in the system. At a July 3 campaign event in New  Hampshire, Williamson discussed the “illusion of choice” in American elections, comparing them to Iran’s, where “you can vote for whoever you want, among the people that they tell you it’s OK to vote for.”

Afterward, Williamson backed off just a hair, calling her remarks “a cautionary tale, not a direct analogy.” She shouldn’t have.

Iran’s parliament, the Islamic Consultative Assembly, includes 290 representatives. Of those seats, 216 are split between three political parties, 66 are held by independents, and five are reserved for religious minorities.

Of the 435 seats in the US House of Representatives, 434 are split between two political parties, with a lone independent holding the 435th. The US Senate is slightly more diverse — 98 of its seats are split between the two “major” parties, with a whopping two independents.

Yes, “separation of church and state” is preferable to theocracy,  but our two “major” parties, the Democrats and Republicans, exemplify an iron grip on rule by party establishments that even Iran can’t match.

How do they do it? Why aren’t there any current members of Congress from the Libertarian, Green, or other “third parties?” And why are independent and “third party” members of Congress a rarity since early in the 20th century? Two reasons.

One is that unlike the world’s parliamentary democracies, which use “proportional representation” measures to accord smaller parties at least token representation, the US uses single-member districts and first-past-the-post voting. In each district there’s one winner and everyone else loses.

The second is that, since the late 1800s, US states have used government-printed ballots and “ballot access” laws to make it increasingly expensive (and sometimes completely impossible) for “third party” candidates to even appear on voters’ ballots.

According to Nicholas J. Sarwark, chair of the Libertarian National Committee, the Libertarian Party spent more than half a million dollars just getting on ballots for 2016 (not including state party and candidate spending) .

Not campaigning. Just getting their names in front of voters on election day. In some states, no amount of money is enough to get past Republican and Democratic election officials (or, in court, Republican and Democratic judges). Campaigning gets done with what’s left over.

That’s how every election cycle goes. The “major” parties don’t want a fair fight, and they’ve structured American elections to ensure they never face one.

The only way to force a fair fight is for “third party” candidates to start winning the UN-fair fights. Your votes (and donations and party participation) can make that happen.

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North Korea Nuclear Freeze? Finally, a Realistic Proposal

As President Donald Trump met with Supreme Leader Kim Jong-un for the third time at the end of June — becoming the first sitting US president to visit North Korea — the New York Times ran a piece suggesting the appearance of a new option on the proverbial  table: A negotiated “nuclear freeze” rather than just another cycle of fruitless US demands for  “de-nuclearization.”

The response from National Security Advisor John Bolton came swiftly via Twitter:  “Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.’ This was a reprehensible attempt by someone to box in the President.”

If Bolton and the National Security Council HAVEN’T discussed the possibility,  they haven’t been doing their jobs.  And if anyone’s being “boxed in” by having the idea called to public attention, it’s not Trump, it’s Bolton, who prefers saber-rattling theatrics for his hawkish friends on Capitol Hill to actually safeguarding the US.

There are really only two viable paths forward for improved US-North Korea relations.

One is for the US to start minding its own business: Withdraw US troops from and end all defense guarantees to South Korea, unilaterally lift sanctions on the North, and let the region work out its own problems without further American interference. Highly unlikely, at least for the moment.

The other is a “nuclear freeze” under which Kim keeps his existing nuclear arsenal but refrains from building more weapons, in return for sanctions relief and the US getting, and staying, out of the way of improving relations and closer ties between Pyongyang and Seoul.

That second option is eminently doable. It would cost the US  nothing of real value. In fact, rightly handled, it would immediately reduce US “defense” outlays — a peace dividend, if we can keep the Military-Industrial Complex’s grubby hands off it.

Any US policy toward North Korea must account for two facts:

First, nuclear powers don’t give up their nukes. Only one, South Africa, has ever done so, and that regime didn’t face external foes on any large scale. North Korea has effectively been at war since the late 19th century, first against Japanese occupation, then against the South and the US from 1950 until now. Expecting Kim Jong-un to give up the ultimate deterrent to future invasions — by the US, by the South, by Japan, or even by current allies like China and Russia — is simply unrealistic. It’s not negotiable. The US knows it’s not negotiable. The only reason to even make the demand is to intentionally keep relations hostile.

Secondly, in the case of the United States, Kim has historical evidence as to what giving up his nukes might portend. He saw Iraq’s Saddam Hussein and Libya’s Muammar Gaddafi deposed and killed after they gave up their (never successful) nuclear weapons efforts. Kim would presumably prefer to remain alive and in charge.

A nuclear freeze agreement would not, in and of itself, produce peace. But it would be a giant step in that direction.

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Time To Roast The Peacock

Years ago I seem to have signed up for email “news alerts” from one of the original old “mainstream news” corporations. I don’t remember why. I’ve never bothered to unsubscribe because until the past couple of years I didn’t get that many alerts, but when I did, they were about actual events; news. Things like earthquakes, mass murders, hurricanes, plane crashes, and stuff of that sort. That has changed during the Trump years.

Now I get a few “alerts” every day, and the majority of them are designed to do one thing only: to disparage Trump. Why bother? I don’t care one way or the other.

I hate that I have to say this again, but if I don’t I will be misinterpreted (I probably will be anyway): I don’t like or support Trump or any other president, past, present, or future. I do not respect the office, nor do I believe it is even slightly legitimate.

But what amazes me is the amount of effort this “news organization” is putting towards trashing Trump. The contrast with the way they treated Obama makes this even more obvious. And disgusting. I get it: the mainstream media hates Trump. OK. It doesn’t mean you have to stretch to find people who hate Trump to quote. Or report on things you think Trump might have been thinking, or whatever. That’s not newsworthy, it’s just desperate. It makes you look as bad as you are hoping it makes Trump look. Some days, even worse.

I’m occasionally interested in news. I’m not interested in the “news’” opinions on Trump. Or on the “Democratic candidates” either. Politics isn’t automatically news; in fact, it rarely is.

This has finally inspired me to do what I should have done many years ago. I have unsubscribed from their “news alerts”. It was past time.

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