Citizenism versus collective property rights, and voters versus representatives

The term citizenism has been much in vogue lately. Sonic Charmer’s blog post I, Citizenist started the trend. My co-blogger Nathan wrote two blog posts on citizenism, one on the citizenist case for open borders and the other on Christianity vs. citizenism. I think co-blogger John Lee also has much to say on citizenism, though (as of now) he hasn’t published his thoughts on citizenism.

However, lest the term “citizenism” get bandied about too loosely, I want to clarify exactly what is meant by the term. The term “citizenism” was first introduced by Steve Sailer. References to and quotes from his writings on the subject are at the citizenism page. Here, I wish to highlight several different aspects of citizenism which are substantiated by quotes from Sailer:

  1. Citizenism places substantially greater weight on the rights and interests of citizens than non-citizens, though, as Nathan pointed out, it operates within moral side-constraints.
  2. Citizenism is about current citizens, not about the people who may become citizens as a result of immigration or deportation policy. Thus, unlike other forms of “analytical nationalism,” it is relatively immune to compositional effects paradoxes. For instance, if a new person were to join the country and earn a below-average income, but were to boost the incomes of all natives, a citizenist would have no problem with this at least from the income angle, but a “maximize-the-average” analytical nationalist would have a problem. On the other hand, a citizenist would object to the deportation of a current citizen with below-average income, despite the effect this may have on raising the national average. Thus, citizenists can calmly refute point (3) in Bryan Caplan’s list of questions in his Vronsky syndrome blog post.
  3. Citizenism, as conceived by Sailer, is both about the individual ethics of voters and about the responsibilities of elected representatives. Sailer is not merely arguing that governments should concern themselves only with the welfare of citizens. He is arguing that citizens, qua citizens, should be concerned primarily about the welfare of their fellow citizens. I am not sure if Sailer would go further and argue that citizens have a duty to favor the interests of fellow citizens even in their private lives, but it certainly seems like he would admire such behavior.
  4. Citizenism is about loyalty, not admiration, toward one’s fellow citizens. A citizenist does not claim that his/her fellow citizens are the world’s best, but simply defends their interests. I think of it as nationalism without romance. As Sailer puts it, a citizenist looks at his less-than-ideal fellow citizen and says, “he’s a son of a bitch, but he’s our son of a bitch.”

I think Sonic Charmer, and most other “moderate” citizenists, would have no trouble signing on to (1) and (2). (3) seems to me the most controversial, and Sonic Charmer’s logic for why governments should be citizenist does not (to me) seem to imply (3). My co-blogger Nathan seems to have most of his issues with (3), not with (1) or (2), as he writes in his most recent blog post:

[T]here 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.

I want to explain a bit more about why I consider (3) to be particularly significant. To do this, I want to distinguish citizenism from another related idea thrown around by opponents of open borders: the idea of collective property rights. Collective property rights simply asserts that a nation-state has the moral authority to arbitrarily deny non-citizens entry, because the nation-state, as a representative of the people, has property rights over the land, particularly the publicly owned parts of the land (there is a variant of this logic, called the anarcho-capitalist counterfactual). I won’t attempt to rebut this logic here — the collective property rights page discusses various rebuttals. Rather, my goal here is to highlight the differences between collective property rights and citizenism.

Collective property rights is simply an assertion that the nation-state, via its elected government, can deny non-citizens entry. Claims of collective property rights do not, in and of themselves, offer any guidance on when and how these rights should be exercised. Here are many different ways a believer in collective property rights could consider the exercise of these rights:

  • Radical agnosticism: The nation-state’s government can admit or deny non-citizens in a completely arbitrary fashion, without having to justify itself to either citizens or non-citizens. In this view, whatever the government decrees is the right thing.
  • Agnostic democratic fundamentalism: Non-citizens should be allowed or denied entry based on whether the majority of citizens would consent to their entry. Not every single entry is to be determined by referendum, but the ideal should be to design rules that most closely approximate this democratic fundamentalist ideal. Note that the rationale that the citizens use to reach their decisions is irrelevant as far as the democratic fundamentalist is concerned. Democratic fundamentalism allows for voters who are citizenists or universalists, Christians or atheists, informed or deluded, moral or immoral, saints or psychopaths. If open borders hurt 100% of citizens, but 51% of voters still supported it because of their religious or secular altruistic or moral beliefs, the democratic fundamentalist would give open borders the green light. Interestingly, many restrictionists use arguments of a democratic fundamentalist nature when citing citizen preference for reduced immigration as a rationale for cutting immigration.
  • Citizenism via democratic fundamentalism: Here, elected representatives need to make decisions based on what the majority wants. But in addition, individual citizens, whether as voters or political lobbyists or elected representatives, need to make and justify their political decisions using citizenist premises.
  • Citizenism as a direct basis for political decision-making: Here, elected representatives directly make decisions on a citizenist basis, irrespective of what the democratic majority decrees. In the ideal world here, the ruler is a benevolent citizenist dictator.

What these possibilities highlight is that even if you’re convinced that nation-states have collective property rights, citizenism is a far stronger proposition, because it is a normative claim about what nation-states and individual citizens should do. It’s perfectly possible to believe in collective property rights but reject citizenism, for instance, by being an agnostic democratic fundamentalist.

And citizenism comes in two flavors: as a direct guide to decision-making by politicians, and as guideline for voters. Given the prevalence of democratic fundamentalism in the modern world, not too many people argue for citizenism as a direct basis for political decision-making. And even citizenists who would prefer a benevolent citizenist dictator understand that such a message would not go down well in today’s democratic fundamentalist environment.

Rather, most people argue for citizenism via democratic fundamentalism: citizen voters have a duty to be citizenists, and elected representatives have a duty to heed voters’ preferences. But to make this argument, you’d have to make the strong claim (point (3) in my first list) that individual voters, not just elected representatives, have a duty to be citizenists. In other words, they have a duty, when making the decision to vote, to reject altruism toward foreigners and replace it with greater altruism toward their fellow citizens whom they may not care much about. This is the most controversial aspect of citizenism, but it’s also crucial for the citizenist who wants to appease the democratic fundamentalist majority. And this is the aspect that open borders advocates should concentrate most on.

16 thoughts on “Citizenism versus collective property rights, and voters versus representatives”

  1. Look, this isn’t all that complicated.

    Most people feel the greatest level of charity towards those nearest to them and then it emanates outwards. So your put yourself and your family first, then relatives, then friends and community, then nation, then the world. You feel less of an obligation at each level, but you feel some. All of us have an intuitive idea of what an appropriate level of charity is at each level. There are good reasons for this that non-aspie normal people get because that part of their brain isn’t broken like abstraction chasers on the internet.

    What we’ve got here is a standard case of skip skip. Namely, people skip the community/nation levels of charity for the world level. 99% of the time this is disingenuous (they are really just doing so because immigration benefits themselves or their closer in-groups). Sometimes that benefit it just holier then thou cred on the cheap (as opposed to actually going all “Blind Side” and taking poor Africans into your home you support it in principal (read: on the cheap) and just happen to benefit from the cheap landscaping rates). Though I suppose there are aspie true believers out there who don’t understand what is going on at all (and also aren’t taking poor people into their homes, so there is a limit to their charity too).

    So that’s the state of things. Most people intuitively get that many kinds of immigration aren’t necessarily all that great for average Americans or the nations long term health, but a few people who all happen to benefit from low labor rates because they have capital wield lots of political power so they support open borders. And a few people caught in between who want to feel and look like the cool kids (with capital) will agree for cheap spiritual feel goodism coupled with a hope of social climbing (or flat out court jester bribery in the case of the Caplan’s of the world).

    1. Dear holier then thou,

      I appreciate your thoughtful and thought-provoking comment. The “more charity at home” type argument has been discussed extensively by my co-blogger Nathan Smith here. We have also discussed your various critiques on the pages linked to from here.

      1. In your first link you don’t get from principles #1 and #2 to your conclusion about immigration. All you state is:

        “But international differences in income today are far too extreme for it to be plausible that this type of division of labor is consistent with an ultimate standard of universal altruism.”

        And then expect me to agree because…? This seems merely a statement of opinion, not some 2 + 2 = 4 proof.

        Also, you quite rightly abandon an orthodox reading of principal #1 for good reason in your last paragraph.

        So I’m not sure how your link supports your open borders positioning when it relies on values assertions I don’t agree with and first principals we’ve both decided don’t make sense.

        As to your second link I note that there are no counter arguments presented, so I’m not sure the point of the link.

        1. Holier then you, thanks for your engaging and insightful comments.

          International differences in income are huge, controlling for skill levels. See our page on the place premium and our blog posts about it. We claim that open borders would double world GDP and end world poverty (see also our blog posts about it). This makes at least a strong prima facie case that, even if you believe in some “division of labor” altruism toward people closer to you, this does not justify closed borders.

          Of course, any such case is only prima facie. There may be subtle objections, such as killing the goose that lays the golden eggs or cheap labor leading to a technological slowdown.

          If you completely reject the premise of _any_ universal altruism, that’s a different story. Nathan’s post was addressed to people who have some degree of universal altruism but also believe in a “division of labor” greater concern for the citizens of their country.

          You might also enjoy reading our page and posts on citizenism.

          Regarding the pages on various arguments of the sort you make attacking the motives of advocates, my only point was that I’m well aware of these critiques, so while your own formulation is certainly original, the underlying concerns are already things I’m well aware of. I haven’t yet bothered to craft a response, because I’m trying to focus on responding to stronger arguments on the restrictionist side. I’ll get to addressing these arguments as well, but they’re a very low priority.

          1. I have reservations about both those claims, but you already know most of them and others have stated them. I’m not sure you have sufficient rebuttal.

            As to universal altruism I suppose I do reject it, but only this fundamentalist version your putting forward. I think when you start from this point it becomes almost impossible to defend limitations you probably would be quite fond of based on #2. For instance, its true that your average upper middle class couple can’t raise all of Africa without losing their ability to properly raise their own kids. However, can’t they raise one African kid in the spare bedroom? Maybe two? Etc. Without jeopardizing their ability to raise productive children. I’m not sure #2 is sufficient grounds to avoid this if you value the differential in income that highly and believe in true universal altruism. I wouldn’t be surprised if you disagree, but I’m not sure that disagreement is genuine if you support the positions you claim to support.

            Ultimately it’s all going to come down to one simple fact. We don’t really know what would happen with open borders. We have some studies which give of some extremely rough (and disputable) ideas of what happens in some contexts and with certain assumptions (and as someone who works in this sort of sphere I discount these results heavily). Then we’re going to use those as justification for a radical experiment never tried before? The same applies to the political feasibility of various mitigating options (keyhole solutions?).

            What your describing is a hypothetical risk/reward. The reward is that we improve the lives of third worlders (and maybe some first worlders). The risk is that we fuck up the lives of many people in our own society, maybe even our society as a whole.

            Now, don’t you think that whether a particular person stands to disproportionately be rewarded or take the risk is going to effect their view of all the variables that go into the risk reward function? If you don’t see how someones perceptions of reality can be influenced by their potential to gain from perceiving reality a certain way then I suppose we have an irreconcilable difference here.

  2. I think it’s a generally accepted part of the etiquette of debate not to engage in *ad hominem* arguments. Over the course of many years of debates, I’ve come to believe in the value of this principle, not so much because it prevents arguments from becoming rancorous and bitter, as because I think *ad hominem* arguments have no tendency whatsoever to lead to truth. When people try to guess why I’m holding a position, and they attribute it to some kind of personal ulterior motive, they are usually wildly wrong about my motives, even when the people making the attributions are members of my own family, who should be able to judge things accurately if anyone can. I have little doubt that person who assumed that all my opinions are adopted on a completely disinterested basis would be far closer to the truth than anyone who tried to psychoanalyze me.

    In the case of Bryan Caplan, given that his odds of actually influencing immigration policy are so slight, I think we can rule out his devoting time to open-borders advocacy just because he wants to hire low-wage foreigners for his own household service or whatever. It would be far more effective to devote the same time to writing more books or doing some consulting or whatever, and use that to hire the help that is available already. The phrase “flat out court jester bribery in the case of the Caplan’s of the world” is amusing, but in fact Caplan’s paycheck comes from George Mason University, a taxpayer-funded entity. Indeed, if his self-interest points in any direction, it’s probably costly for him to advocate open borders, thus alienating some of his readers and making it unlikely that he’ll ever becoming a mainstream conservative pundit, a role for which in some respects he might be pretty well qualified.

    So, to your question… “Now, don’t you think that whether a particular person stands to disproportionately be rewarded or take the risk is going to effect their view of all the variables that go into the risk reward function?”… I think the answer is (a) mostly, no, and (b) it’s a waste of time to speculate about it. You’d be much closer to the truth if you just accepted that we open-borders advocates do it because we believe the moral and economic case for open borders is overwhelming. And there are better uses for your seemingly clever mind than coming up with witty dismissive characterizations of people.

    1. I’ll second Nathan here, but I’ll also add that it cuts both ways: I think that most restrictionists are motivated by altruism, not by self-interest. Their altruism is largely directed at their fellow citizens, and hence I (and also to some extent Nathan) consider this altruism morally misdirected and also factually mistaken (in that at least moderate open borders can be justified from a citizenist perspective). None of us on the Open Borders blog have (to my knowledge) ever imputed otherwise about the motives of restrictionists.

      Personally, I have also rejected the use of accusations of racism against restrictionists and been critical of stereotyping restrictionists using negative caricatures.

    2. Nathan,

      I think we have a wildly different view of Bryan’s incentives. Polite society (high IQ people with capital) is pro open borders. People with power are pro open borders. The first time I heard the CEO at my first job speak (high end investment banking) it was an entire speech about how people who didn’t support open borders were stupid hicks. And academics are by and large open borders.

      So it doesn’t cost Bryan anything to hold these views. If anything it advances his career because he tells people what they want to hear and provides them arguments and credibility on its behalf. People much more powerful then him benefit from cheaper labor far more then him, he is clearly outer party in this example. But he gets his crumbs (a cushy six figure tenure job where he mostly gets to do what he likes all day and live in his happy bubble) for towing the party line.

      “making it unlikely that he’ll ever becoming a mainstream conservative pundit”

      “Mainstream conservative pundit” for someone with his education and background means appealing to country club republican libertarians. I.E. the kind of republicans with power, not the proles they appeal to in flyover country every four years (they have other people for that market). He has become exactly what he wants to become and appeals to exactly the kind of market that supports his checks.

      I doubt Bryan’s life is significantly enhanced by cheap landscaping, it is more meant to show how immigrants are generally not competing in Bryan’s labor pool. He risks far less then others if more immigrants come, which effects his evaluation of the risks.

      As to analyzing people’s motivations I agree with the concept you put forth to some degree (that if something is true it doesn’t matter who says it). However, social science isn’t science. In fact its a lot farther from science then those that practice it like to think it is. So it still all comes down how we perceive and the evidence and value the alternatives. It impossible to separate people’s incentives from their perceptions and values. Looking at peoples incentives is the most reliable way of figuring out what they will value. Perhaps this is were my traders instinct comes in more then the academic instinct. Simply put I find people of a certain type (non-neurotypical high IQ males that enjoy abstraction) have a way of completely misunderstanding human beings and at the same time being unbelievably certain they understand them. I’ve got the same affliction, but life experience helped me get over it some.

      I don’t consider the evidence overwhelming. So if you do its likely that your assessment of the evidence is biased (I will freely admit my assessment could be biased too, but I’m not claiming to be holier then thou and asking people to risk their whole civilization over my theories). Until such overwhelming evidence is presented (and having read through this site I’m not convinced) I see no reason to assume my own views are more biased then yours.

      1. Holier then thou,

        (1) It’s probably true that Bryan gets a lot of admiration from commenters and others for his pro-open borders views. But, my casual empiricism suggests that he gets more negative pushback on his pro-open borders views than on any of his other views (with the possible exception of some of his views on women in the 19th century, but this isn’t a view that Bryan keeps trying to repeat — it’s very tangential to his blogging).

        So, if pleasing his audience (elite EconLog commenters) were Bryan’s goal, then I think he could probably benefit more from tamping down his pro-open borders views and sounding more moderate.

        (2) You’re also right that a lot of elites support more open borders than the masses (restrictionists would attribute this to the elite conscience salve and corporatist agenda, while others might simply say that elites are going by the economist consensus and smart and more informed opinion). But it’s a mistake to think that elites support open borders anywhere near the extent to which Bryan, or the people on this site, do. A lot of pushback that Bryan receives is from moderate open borders advocates.

        (3) It simply isn’t true that Bryan is protected from the effects of immigration. Academia is probably one of the few areas where the US is de facto closest to open borders, and academics support open borders despite experiencing its effects on a day-to-day basis. I discuss this more in the blog post why are academia and Silicon Valley pro-immigration? and come up with some possible explanations, some of which you might be more sympathetic to than others. In 22:30-25:00 of his “Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem” video, Bryan also makes exactly this point about academia having the most open immigration system.

        (4) Obviously, you’re not convinced. That’s fine. Informed and skeptical critics are very valuable. I hope you find the site interesting and I look forward to continuing to read your critical comments on current and future blog posts. Even if not, I appreciate the effort you’ve spent so far in sharing your thoughts with the site.

        1. (1) Bryan is not appealing to commentators on his blog. He is appealing to people who write checks. People who write checks benefit from the net effect of what he advocates.

          (2) It depends on the elite. Most elites, like most normal people, are neuro-typicals. Which means they don’t think out their various notions too deliberately and get lost in endless abstraction and debates about first principals and meta ethics and so forth. So your average elite is pro open borders but also “conservative” in the “don’t break stuff” conservative sense. He wants to see marginal increases that will drive down labor costs but is wary of anything that upsets the status quo too much (after all, the current status quo is that he’s an elite). The real life marginal effect of Bryan’s exhortations is just that.

          (3) Older academics, and academics protected by language and culture barriers, are not competing with immigrants. Bryan isn’t about to lose his tenure job because some foreign economist offers to work for 70% of his salary.

          However, I readily admit many current STEM grad students get fucked by immigration. But they aren’t making policy. Older people, usually with either economic, cultural, or social capital that immigrants can’t obtain make policy.

          Now one might say that if immigration is bad for a low level employee/grad student why would they support it. Well you have to understand game theory. The leaders in their industry (who stand to gain from it) aren’t affected by it. And they want to emulate them and their opinions, because that is an important part of their advancement.

          Imagine if a programmer voiced concern that the flood of foreign programmers was going to drive down wages. People would automatically think that his fear meant he was a mediocre programmer. A star programmer wouldn’t be afraid of anyone or any circumstances. Therefore being a pro immigration programmer signals that your a good programmer, which is worth more to you then having an incredibly marginal effect on immigration policy. You need to understand the signalling value of being pro immigration. Most of peoples compensation, career path, and social standing all boil down to how good they are at signaling.

          However, the fear is real. I remember talking to other quants in IB why they became quants instead of trying to actually add value to society and I often got this answer:

          In a couple decades there will be roughly 5 gajillion Asians and Indians grinds doing what we do and wages will be driven to zero. There will be no middle class. The only way to survive is to acquire lots of capital first so they are working for you when it happens.

          Or as another blogger I read wrote:
          “The 2001 vision of flying cars and robot maids for all was replaced with a shallow and nihilistic individual vision: get as rich as you can, so you have a goddamn lifeboat when this place burns the fuck down.”

          Now, this is only something that people will tell you behind closed doors if they know you really well, but its the real fear behind the public facade of invincibility. And if you don’t think it was a driving idea when some of these quants came up with CDOs and looked the other way you’re really naive.

          That said, I will say in this case I’m In total agreement with Silicon Valley. People in Silicon Valley are supporting high IQ immigrants, often with unique skill sets. They tend to add value to the nation in the short and long runs. Also, because programming is generally a value creation, rather then value transference industry, the addition of new labor can actually increase the wages of natives. A foreigner who starts a new company adds to the demand for labor. And programming is one of the few industries where smart people with little financial capital can still become job creating entrepreneurs. Our current policy towards high IQ immigration is a disaster, but that is an outgrowth of the inability to talk about IQ or race in our political climate (for an example of a better version of this policy I suggest looking at Australia).

          For this reason I’m far more open to the case of supporting high levels of immigration of the high IQ, especially those that have skills in key industries. However, you’ll note that this is far different from being “open borders”. Open borders, in practical real life terms, means mostly supporting the mass immigration of low IQ low skill workers who will mostly compete for the existing pie rather then increase it. That is of a very different nature.

          This is one thing that Audacious Epigone noted in one of his posts. Academics and Silicon Valley types mostly deal with agreeable high IQ immigrants they respect. However, the vast majority of immigrants are the low IQ type they live in expensive areas to avoid.

          I have no doubt Bryan likes the high IQ Brahmins in Virginia and Maryland he meets and all the wonderful ethnic food they bring with them (enjoying the extra delicacies that his upper middle class income affords him for selling out his countrymen being one of the major delights of his life). However, that isn’t the reality of immigration in this country.

        2. (4) I don’t expect too. I’m sure your pretty smart, and you feel you’re pretty smart, and if you just keep on pushing deeper you’ll “solve” this whole mess. I used to think like that too. All of us with this kind of cognitive deficiency tend to get that way. I really doubt you are going to be convinced by anyone comment on a blog. Likely it will come from something totally different.

          1. Let’s just put it this way: you’ve made a whole lot of claims, with very little evidence. That’s one reason not to waste your time analyzing people’s motives for their expressed beliefs: your claims will necessarily be unverifiable. By the way, on Bryan Caplan, your suggestions are silly. He’s flattering those who write checks… to whom? To him personally? That would certainly require evidence. To GMU? He’s not an institutional-solidarity kind of guy. And he’s got tenure. Also, academics like Bryan face lots of competition from immigrants: they cannot be accused of hypocrisy. I’d agree that Bryan Caplan’s position is in one sense self-interested, namely, in the sense that he enjoys speaking the truth, and would feel dirty advocating the exclusion or expulsion of millions of people. He’s comfortable enough that his marginal utility from a clean conscience is a lot higher than his marginal utility from a bit more money. You’d be well advised to give up trying to read people’s motives and just answer their arguments.

          2. Bryan gets his checks and tenure from GMU. If he was a threat to people who can influence GMU he would be eliminated. But he isn’t a threat, he’s in fact immensely useful to those forces. Forces who for the most part use libertarian purity and eco 101 orthodoxy as a cover for looting and evil.

            I have no doubt Bryan could make some marginal income gains by more directly selling out in some corporate job, but then he would have to face more direct evidence of his life being a fraud rather then the indirect which would reduce his joy from being able to play the hero. He would also have to deal with more corporate BS he would hate. I’m sure while not maximizing his income his GMU positioning maximizes his personal utility, and at quite a high level I might add.

            Let’s face it, in no scenario is he wallowing down with the proles whose lives he’s ruining with the policies he promotes.

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