Christianity vs. citizenism

In my most recent post, I wrote the following passage:

I am certainly no citizenist myself. In fact, for purposes of the present post, I’d rather not admit what my attitude to citizenism as a meta-ethics is, because it would set quite the wrong tone. However, I feel I have to mention it in passing, because if I were to write a post on citizenism without mentioning it, I might seem to convey, implicitly, an attitude of moral tolerance for what ought not to be morally tolerated. So I’ll say it: I believe, for the record, that a thorough-going, principled citizenism is appallingly wicked, and diametrically opposed to Christianity, and that practitioners of a citizenist meta-ethics are in danger of hellfire. You see why, if I’m right, I felt the need to warn you.

On second thought, I should probably offer more explanation here. Of course, I am writing primarily to Christians here. Atheists (and people of other religious persuasions) don’t believe in hellfire (or have completely different guidelines for what deserves hellfire), and in that sense, they are just spectators for this post, although if they want to ask questions, everyone is welcome. This post is by way of clarification.

First, while it may sound like an insult to say “practitioners of citizenist meta-ethics are in danger of hellfire,” the point is not to insult anyone, still less to engage in careless and hyperbolic rhetoric to compel people to accept my point of view, but to state what I believe (tentatively, and with a great deal of qualification) to be a fact about what will happen to people as a consequence of certain attitudes and, especially, of certain actions.

Second, the phrase “practitioners of a citizenist meta-ethics” needs unpacking. I didn’t say “believers” in a citizenist meta-ethics because in the scheme of salvation I don’t think that abstract or ideological beliefs matter that much. If a US resident and citizen imbibes from the surrounding environment the notion that one should only care about the welfare of one’s countrymen, but all the people in his town are citizens, and he treats them very well, his indifference to the well-being of people he’s never met and whose lives he doesn’t consciously impact at all will probably have little impact on the state of his soul. If people actually meet foreigners, or consciously do things that affect them, and ignore the foreigners’ well-being, that’s where the danger lies.

Third, there is a difference between citizenism as a personal meta-ethics and citizenism as a political meta-ethics. Sorry for the jargon. What I mean is that there’s a difference between saying (a) “I only care about Americans” and (b) saying “The government should only care about Americans,” and while (a) is definitely un-Christian, (b) might not be. Someone who believed the US government should help Americans and put near-zero weight on foreigners’ interests, but who thought Americans as individuals are obligated to be generous to foreigners as well, and who is personally very generous, would probably not imperil her soul much by her political attitude, even if she is mistaken.

Jesus taught a gospel of universal love, and as Christians we are told to conform to His will. Only thus can we be saved. The stuff we are made of is corrupt, impermanent, transient, poisoned by sin. He has become one of us and (this is a mystery) given us His own self as a substitute for our own fallen and dying selves. We must, ultimately, if we are not to perish, live up to that, and give ourselves completely to love without reservation or limit, for only then will we be able to rise to accept the gift of eternal life. Otherwise we are doomed to decay and disintegration. But let me turn to the Bible, and in particular to the parable of the Good Samaritan, Luke 10:25-37, to make this clearer: Continue reading Christianity vs. citizenism

Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

NOTE: This article focuses on the United States, though some of its points may be more generally applicable.

In a blog post I’m currently drafting (which will hopefully be published shortly after this one) I note BK’s criticism of open borders advocates such as Bryan Caplan — pro-migration forces as they actually exist are opposed to all the keyhole solutions that might actually alleviate the concerns of moderate critics of open borders. By siding with these “pro-migration forces” open borders advocates make it appear that their advocacy of keyhole solutions to deal with the problems of migration is a mere rhetorical fig leaf offered to critics of open borders. Here’s an excerpt from BK’s comment:

Those changes [making keyhole solutions politically feasible] would require a big political effort, since pro-migration political forces are mostly very opposed to keyhole solutions since they expect to benefit politically from bringing in immigrants that will vote for them. And so, to implement a Singapore-style solution the key step would be to push to create the legal apparatus and will to enforce that apparatus *before* adding tens of millions of recent low-skill migrants to the electorate.

On the other hand, live immigration proposals of recent years have called for amnesty of all existing illegal immigrants in the U.S. with tens of millions more to follow via family sponsorships, and reduced enforcement to enable more low-skill migration. This would drastically change the political landscape, to the disfavor of keyhole solutions. Recall that support for immigration is the area where recent migrants are most different from locals.

So generalized pro-immigration ideological pushes strengthen the opponents of keyhole solutions more than they support keyhole solutions. And in practice Bryan and folk at this site do seem to use keyhole solutions primarily as a rhetorical fig-leaf to deflect opposition and shut down conversations.

Although BK doesn’t offer any specific links, I think he’s [NOTE: I have strong reason to believe BK is male, even though it’s not obvious from the comment text, so I’ll use “he” to refer to BK] mostly on point regarding the “pro-migration” and even more broadly the “pro-immigrant” forces (even if we ignore pro-immigrant restrictionists for the moment). Frankly, I think that a lot of the pro-migration and pro-immigrant forces aren’t interested in anything approaching open borders, and may not even be supportive of expanded immigration. In fact, I suspect that a lot of what motivates immigrants’ rights activists is territorialism, an ideology that, unlike citizenism, is interested in the welfare and protection of rights of all people who are within the geographical area of the nation, regardless of their citizenship status and of whether they are authorized or unauthorized. Added: A lot of immigrant rights’ activists are also susceptible to local inequality aversion, another obstruction to keyhole solutions.

I will look at a few groups that are often (rightly or wrongly) labeled as pro-immigrant and study how their efforts might help or hurt the development of keyhole solutions.

American Civil Liberties Union

A classic example of territorialism is the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The ACLU is at the forefront of defending the rights of immigrants, including “illegal” immigrants, via their Immigrants’ Rights Project. I’ve read through a number of pages on the ACLU website, and it seems to me that the ACLU takes no position on what immigration law itself should be. In fact, they concede that the US has collective property rights and can set more or less any immigration policy. The only thing they object to is inhumane deportations. From their Immigrants’ Rights Project page:

Our nation has unquestioned authority to control its borders and to regulate immigration. But we must exercise the awesome power to exclude or deport immigrants consistent with the rule of law, the fundamental norms of humanity and the requirements of the Constitution.

And they seem to take no position on the civil liberties and human rights of non-US people when they are not in US territory.

Now, you might say that this is just part of the “division of labor” that Nathan highlighted in this post. The ACLU is the American (US) Civil Liberties Union, which means that their scope is explicitly limited to what happens within the territory and jurisdiction of the United States. This means that, definitionally, qua organization, they cannot be concerned about the violation of rights of people outside the territory or jurisdiction of the United States, even if individuals at the ACLU feel strongly about these issues. Fair enough. Continue reading Are immigrant rights activists friends of open borders?

Place premium versus race premium

Co-blogger John Lee has written an interesting post on the place premium — the extent to which a person’s current location affects that person’s earnings — and how it compares with various estimates for the “gender premium” — the estimates for how much less females earn than males with the same skills and qualifications. John focused on the gender premium, but pretty much the same observations can be made about the “race premium” — for instance, about the wage differences between whites and blacks in the United States with the same skills and qualifications. I was planning to write this current post before I saw John’s, but since he’s already written his, I’ll stick to a few points that I think are important but that I think were not salient in John’s post.

My main point is this: race and gender are intrinsic to a person’s identity. Sex change operations are rare, though not unheard of. Race change isn’t possible — though a person can change the race he/she self-identified with, the person’s race as perceived by others cannot be changed through an act of fiat. This is important in two ways.

Measurement uncertainty

The ideal way to measure a “premium” (place, race, or gender) is to take a fixed person, start that person in one place (respectively race, gender), then change the person’s place (respectively race, gender) and then measure how much this affected that person’s earnings. Now, in the case of race and gender, this type of ideal “controlled experiment” is almost impossible. In the gender case, it’s impossible unless you can persuade people to undergo sex change operations — but people who undergo sex change operations are likely to not be representative either before or after their operations. In the race case, it’s also impossible or nearly so.

There is considerable debate on the gender premium in the United States, for instance, largely because it’s very difficult to figure out what exactly it means for a female and a male to be identical in all respects other than gender. Are we accounting for various unobserved characteristics? Different choices of how to break the data down (by profession, sub-profession, years of experience) yield different estimates. Which of these choices is justified? The Atlantic interview that John linked to from his blog post highlights some of the points of contention. Bryan Caplan, who is skeptical of the existence of a huge gender premium or race premium in the United States, has lecture notes on the key points of contention. Continue reading Place premium versus race premium

Immigration, emigration, and the rule of law

Large numbers of people in the United States (and possibly elsewhere) draw a sharp distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Common refrains include, “I have nothing against immigration, only illegal immigration.” Prospective immigrants are urged to get in line. Illegal immigrants are called “illegals” and questionable analogies are drawn with hostile alien invasions. Crossing borders without authorization is considered so fundamentally immoral that people who do so are punished more harshly than sex offenders. The kinder, gentler opponents of unauthorized border-crossing go far enough to concede that deporting millions of people isn’t practical, and instead favor attrition through enforcement, aka self-deportation.

For the moment, I’m interested specifically in those opponents of illegal immigration who explicitly argue that they have nothing against immigration per se, even dramatically increased immigration, but illegal immigration is bad specifically because it undermines respect for the rule of law. And given that people don’t have enough respect for US law (or the laws of the country they’re immigrating to) to immigrate legally, why would they respect the laws of the land once they have settled there?

This argument can be, and has been, critiqued from many angles (see the legal versus illegal page for more). Here, I’m going to critique it by contrasting it with emigration. A number of regimes, mostly communist, explicitly forbid people from leaving the country (fortunately, this number has been dwindling over the last few decades, with Cuba’s lifting of its travel embargo being the latest positive development). And yet, we know that emigration has been crucial for people escaping communist and other tyrannical regimes. And these people have helped shed light on the crimes of these regimes and helped end some of the worst practices of these regimes. Today, the only country that’s really hard to leave due to government restrictions is North Korea.

My question: when people illegally smuggle themselves out of North Korea to go to Mongolia and then to South Korea, or Cubans illegally escape their country to come to the United States, or East Germans cross the Berlin Wall to get into West Germany, why aren’t restrictionists equally worried about the lack of respect these emigrants display for the “rule of law” in their countries? After all, they are explicitly and clearly violating the laws of the country they were born into. If so, why should we expect them to follow the laws of the country they are migrating to?

You’d probably say I am attacking a straw man here. Clearly, the emigration laws of these countries are so depraved that it is morally permissible to break them, and morally impermissible to actively try to enforce them. And if somebody violates these laws, it does not mean that the person is likely to violate generally sensible laws in other domains of life.

But this raises the question: are immigration laws also sufficiently unjust that it is morally permissible to violate them? Although restrictionists often use the killing versus letting die distinction, the truth is that considerable violence is necessary to close borders — whether you’re closing them to prevent entry or to prevent escape. And does people’s violating immigration laws mean that they have no respect for the rule of law in general, or just that they simply don’t see immigration law as being on the same moral plane as, say, laws against murder and theft, or simple rules about what side of the road to drive on?

Now, my goal in this blog post is not to argue that opposition to immigration is obviously or always immoral, or that these moral considerations override the real-world costs of immigration (I do obviously believe that — or I wouldn’t have created this site and wouldn’t be blogging here — but that is not the purpose of this blog post). Rather, what I’m claiming is that people who specifically object to immigration because it’s “illegal” while claiming no objections to legal immigration are ducking the hard question of whether, in fact, immigration laws are sufficiently morally justified to make their violation immoral. Honest opponents of immigration would do better to actually engage the moral and practical considerations surrounding immigration rather than claim that their “only” problem with immigration is that it’s illegal.

Open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 2

This is the second of a planned series of three blog posts regarding where open borders fit in the libertarian priority list. In part one, I laid out the overall agenda of the series:

I aim to consider three aspects to this issue in three separate blog posts. In the current blog post, I consider the extent to which libertarians do advocate for open borders, relative to many other libertarian causes (my conclusion: not much). In the next blog post, I will consider how much energy I think libertarians should devote to open borders (my conclusion: probably more than they currently do). In my third blog post, I will consider the reasons behind what I perceive as the under-supply of open borders advocacy from libertarians.

I’m glad to see that my first blog post sparked off a lot of debate. Bryan Caplan responded here. Perhaps coincidentally, a number of non-libertarian bloggers have recently blogged about the importance of pro-immigration advocacy. These include Matt Yglesias here and Adam Ozimek here. My co-blogger Nathan responded to Ozimek here.

This blog post will focus on the extent to which I think libertarians should focus on open borders advocacy. Prior to getting into the details, I want to clarify what I mean by the “should” here. My intuitive three-tiered view of ethics says that there are three tiers to ethical obligations:

  1. Negative rights ethics (don’t kill, steal, etc.)
  2. Contract/responsibility ethics (fulfill your contractual responsibilities, be honest, etc.)
  3. Excellence ethics (be nice, do a great job, give to charity, etc. — this is largely supererogatory).

When there is a conflict, negative rights ethics wins out over contract/responsibility ethics — for instance, it is immoral to be a contract killer, and if you did agree to kill somebody, it would be more moral to break the contract and not kill than to fulfil the terms of the contract. Both negative rights ethics and contract/responsibility ethics win out over excellence ethics, which are largely supererogatory.

Open borders advocacy, like most libertarian advocacy, falls outside the realm of negative rights ethics. For some people, including people hired by libertarian think tanks or advocacy groups, libertarian advocacy falls under the realm of contract/responsibility ethics — but whether or not that libertarian advocacy specifically includes open borders advocacy is a matter between them and their employers. So, my discussion of how important open borders advocacy should be within the context of libertarian advocacy is largely a discussion that’s part of the supererogatory framework of excellence ethics. The key point, therefore, is that I do not claim that libertarians as individuals have a personal moral obligation toward open borders advocacy. When I say that libertarians should engage in open borders advocacy, that’s just my shorthand for saying that engaging in open borders advocacy is the best use of libertarian resources based on my understanding of libertarianism, not that libertarians qua individuals are morally obligated to engage in such advocacy.

I will also repeat the scoping I did back in part 1, to circumvent the problem of libertarians (such as those who subscribe to the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual) who simply reject the case for open borders. The question I specifically consider is:

For a libertarian who is broadly convinced by the case for open borders, primarily from the libertarian perspective (but also based on other aspects of the case), how important should support or advocacy for open borders be, relative to other libertarian causes?

With the scoping done, I now proceed to make my case: open borders advocacy “should” be quite high on the libertarian priority list.

The law of large proportions

The law of large proportions says, somewhat unsurprisingly, that the same proportional change in something bigger is larger than the same proportional change in something smaller. (This is not a very standard term, and doesn’t seem to have a Wikipedia page, but see for instance here and here). In fact, even a much smaller proportional change in something bigger could be larger than a much bigger proportional change in something smaller. This term is used in the context of energy conservation. If private automobile transit causes ten times as much pollution as mass transit, then a 10% reduction in pollution from private automobile transit constitutes as much of a reduction in pollution as a complete elimination of pollution from mass transit. In particular, a 10% reduction in pollution from private automobile transit is twice as much as a 50% reduction in the pollution from mass transit. Continue reading Open borders and the libertarian priority list: part 2