Tag Archives: citizenism

The Most Uplifting Form of Human Allegiance

A position long held by Steve Sailer is that citizenism is ” the least destructive and most uplifting form of allegiance humanly possible on an effective scale.” Long term readers of this blog might guess that many of the bloggers here would tend to disagree. But here Sailer argues that of our options, we aren’t going to get better than citizenism.

My starting point in analyzing policies is: “What is in the best overall interests of the current citizens of the United States?”

In contrast, so many others think in terms of: “What is in the best interest of my: identity group / race / ethnicity / religion / bank account / class / ideology / clique / gender / sexual orientation / party / and/or personal feelings of moral superiority?”

Given the options he presents, I might be hard pressed to say that citizenism is any worse than those options and it is clearly superior to many of them. “Personal feelings of moral superiority” for instance seems to devolve simply into straight egoism. Meanwhile the other options have problems of either arbitrariness or stifling of diverse ideas. But is universalism, namely the idea that all humans should carry equal moral weight to each other, truly not possible on “an effective scale”?

Continue reading “The Most Uplifting Form of Human Allegiance” »

Jason Riley makes the case for half-opening the US borders, but not a case for true open borders

A year ago, co-blogger Vipul briefly reviewed Mark Krikorian’s The New Case Against Immigration and Jason Riley’s Let Them In. I have not yet read Krikorian’s book, but I have finished Riley’s. Overall, I second Vipul’s sentiment that despite the radical book cover (the book’s full title is Let Them In: The Case for Open Borders), Riley’s book is incredibly weak because:

  1. It is overly focused on the US (I cannot think of a special reason why the US should be the only or first country to open its borders)
  2. It is overly focused on citizenist and territorialist arguments for immigration (while I think one can make a case for open borders using a citizenist or even nationalist worldview with appropriate moral side-constraints, the book does a poor job of confronting the inherently unethical tensions of these philosophies when they are used to justify closed borders)
  3. It really does not consider more than briefly the tremendous economic harm or moral injustice created by closed borders (Riley trots out the usual arguments about how immigrants benefit the US economy, but there is no reference to the true size of the closed borders problem — when closed borders is halving world GDP, this is a glaring weakness, although to be fair to Riley, I don’t think these estimates were available when he wrote this)

I don’t want to sound overly harsh; I actually would recommend Riley’s book if someone has already exhausted the most basic open borders literature. So if you’ve finished Lant Pritchett’s Let Their People Come (I would say that if you can only read one book about open borders, you need to make it Pritchett’s), maybe consider reading Let Them In. The main selling points for Riley:

  1. He comprehensively covers all the problems with current US immigration policy (its injustice from even citizenist and territorialist standpoints, its economic inefficiency, etc.)
  2. He does an excellent job of laying out the history of US anti-immigration activism (it will probably be news to many that Benjamin Franklin was complaining almost 250 years ago that low-quality German immigrants were refusing to assimilate and destroying the US)
  3. He uncovers some interesting historical facts about US immigration policy which really need to be widely known (for instance, he reveals that the problem of Mexican “illegal immigrants” in the US was virtually non-existent prior to the mid-20th century, because many immigration laws simply didn’t apply to Western hemisphere nationals until 1965 onwards)

In his conclusion, Riley states:

My primary goal in writing this book was to offer a rebuttal to some of the more common anti-immigrant arguments that I’ve come across while covering the issue as a Wall Street Journal editorialist.

Once I read this, I understood why Vipul and I felt the book had oversold itself as a case for open borders. Riley’s true intention was never to make such a broad case in this book. (In fact, Vipul goes as far as to characterise Riley as a political moderate — this is true of the book’s tone, but from its content, I would say Riley probably is pretty close to the liberal extreme on immigration.) If you’re looking for some good rebuttals to common mainstream anti-immigration US-specific arguments, I highly recommend Let Them In. But if you’re looking for the case for open borders, I would without hesitation point you to Lant Pritchett’s Let Their People Come.

Open borders and the justifications for the welfare state

Three major justifications for the welfare state, distinct but related, are (1) social welfare functions may be increased by redistribution (see my previous post on “the conservative social welfare function,”) (2) the welfare state serves as a form of social insurance against the ill chances of life, and most impertinently ambitiously (3) welfare and aid to the poor generally may be a public good via its effect on the utility functions of people who are at least mildly altruistic. Jonathan Gruber’s Public Finance and Public Policy, 3rd ed. offers the following defense of argument (3), stopping at argument (1) along the way:

Why is the government involved in the business of redistributing income?… If society cares equally about the utility of all its members, then social welfare may be maximized by redistributing from high-income individuals (for whom the marginal utility cost of losing a dollar is low) to low-income individuals (for whom the marginal utility gain of getting a dollar is high). Arguments for redistribution are even stronger if society cares in particular about low-income persons, a philosophy embodied in the Rawlsian social welfare function…

The private sector, however, is unlikely to provide such income redistribution, since redistribution faces the same free-rider problems encountered in private provision of other public goods. The consumption of the poor is a public good: I would like the poor to consume more, but I would prefer if others provide them the means of doing so, since I would then get the benefits of seeing the poor consume more but not bear the costs of their increased consumption. If everyone feels this way, then there will be too little private redistribution because everyone will be relying on others to contribute… There may be a role for a government in solving this free-rider problem by taxing its citizens to provide public redistribution. (Gruber, pp. 490-491)

Let me unpack this.

Recall that a public good is defined by two characteristics: (a) non-rivalry, and (b) non-excludability. Non-rivalry means that one person’s use of a good does not preclude another person’s use of it. Non-excludability means that it is not feasible— as distinct from merely not legal as a matter of policy– to exclude anyone from using the good. In this sense (to illustrate the concept) public schools are not a public good, though the general public refuses to hear this message and public finance economists often try to weasel out of it because of its unpopularity. Nonetheless, the fact is logically inescapable, for it is quite feasible– though perhaps illegal, but that’s beside the point– to exclude a child from a public school classroom. Also, classroom seats may be scarce/rivalrous at the margin, and a teacher’s grading time is certainly a rivalrous service: I can grade student A’s exam or student B’s exam, not both.

A welfare payment is certainly not a public good. It is rivalrous: if you receive cash from the government, I can’t receive that same cash. It is excludable: it is clearly feasible not to send the welfare payment. How, then, can Gruber claim that redistribution might be a “public good?” In a rather subjective sense. If a poor person eats a meal, no one else can eat that meal, or get any immediate benefit from it. But if a certain kind of altruism is built into others’ utility functions, these altruists all get some satisfaction from the poor person eating the meal. Given that the poor person eats, these altruists can’t be prevented from thus enjoying, second-hand, his meal. Therefore, this benefit is non-excludable. Nor does one altruist’s enjoyment of the poor person’s meal prevent another person from enjoying it. Therefore, this benefit is non-rival. Being non-excludable and non-rival, the external benefits of helping the poor

I have many objections to this interesting argument. First, it seems improper, somehow, for public policy to take into account such subjective factors. If one does allow it, the practice soon leads to unwanted conclusions. Suppose that, instead of altruism towards the poor, the general population felt hostility towards some group, but didn’t bother to harm that group much because of a free-rider problem. (“I wish somebody would go beat up those nasty wogs, but I can’t be bothered to do it myself.”) If we accept Gruber’s “public good” argument for the welfare state, we should also have to argue, it seems to me, that the brutal mistreatment of unpopular minorities is a public good. Second, the attitudes imputed to the public are not observable. If they were observable, the welfare state could be financed by a Lindahl tax enjoying universal consent. Of course, this argument applies to some extent to all public goods– how much people like a public good can’t be measured effectively in the absence of revealed preference and the price mechanism– but at least in the case of other public goods, the physical use of the good– walks in the park, driving on the roads, listening to public radio, whatever– is observable. Third, the argument is, in its strange way, simultaneously flatters and insults taxpaying citizens, with a certain insolence in both respects. It tells the citizen: (a) we know that, whatever you may say to avoid paying taxes, you really do care about the poor, but (b) we know that, left to your own devices, you won’t give as much as you wish that people like you would give. If some citizen sincerely says, “No, I really don’t care about the poor at all,” the public goods case for the welfare state fails. On the other hand, if most people, when it comes to charitable matters, follow Kant’s advice and act by maxims they desire to be universally practiced, the public goods case for the welfare state fails again.

But my biggest objection to the “public goods” argument for the welfare state is that it assumes what might be called a citizenist, or perhaps a territorialist, social welfare function. That is, it imputes to citizens a certain degree of altruism towards their fellow citizens, but not an equal degree of altruism towards the rest of mankind. If citizens would like the poor in general to consume more, regardless of nationality, then their first priority would probably be open borders, though possibly, if they have a very different understanding of how economy and society work than I do, they might support more foreign aid instead. At any rate, helping poor people resident in the US would not be a very high priority. Even if citizens are assumed to have a citizenist social welfare function, that should really point them towards the citizenist case for open borders and keyhole solutions (like DRITI) that hold natives harmless. To offer the public goods case for the welfare state, and at the same time to support migration restrictions, seems to make sense only from a decidedly territorialist perspective, i.e., if citizens feel altruism towards those present in a country, or at least they’re squeamish about observing dire poverty, but place little or no value on the welfare of those not on the country’s territory. They don’t want to be made to feel pity towards the less fortunate: hence they support the welfare state, and at the same time, the border as blindfold.

It’s irritating to have such attitudes imputed to me as a citizen-taxpayer. Even more irritating is the suggestion that such attitudes are implicitly granted the moral high ground. Gruber may well be right that attitudes such as he describes are an important reason why the welfare state exists. But since some of us don’t share the territorialist social welfare function, the welfare state cannot properly be regarded as a public good. And from a universalist utilitarian or Rawlsian perspective, the territorialist attitudes on the part of citizens that undergird support for the welfare state may be among the chief barriers to rational pursuit of the welfare of mankind.

Fergus Hodgson on citizenism

Fergus Hodgson recently wrote an article for the website of the Future of Freedom Foundation titled Nativism, the Citizenship Union, and Barriers to Movement. His piece offers an interesting critique of citizenism, the idea that national governments should design policies, and their individual citizens should support policies, that place substantially greater weight on the interests of citizens (and their descendants) compared to the interests of non-citizens. Hodgson does not use the word “citizenism” but instead opts for “nativism” to describe the citizenist position.

The word choice is interesting. I’ve noticed that defenders of citizenism rarely call themselves nativists but prefer to describe themselves as immigration patriots, while the more erudite among them may refer to themselves as citizenists. In contrast, their detractors, such as the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) typically describe them as nativist. It’s interesting that, although I am not a fan of citizenism (see our blog posts tagged citizenism) I find that the word ‘citizenism’ feels like a nicer word than the word ‘nativism’ to my ears, although they describe approximately the same attitude. I don’t know whether this is an effect of the fact that “nativism” is used more by detractors and “citizenism” by supporters of the ideology, or whether this is the cause of that (in other words, perhaps supporters and detractors choose their words as a response to how people instinctively react to them).

Hodgson draws an analogy between citizenism/nativism and support for unions. This analogy is well-designed to appeal to an audience of liberty-minded individuals, principled meritocrats, and union-haters. Similar arguments can be constructed to appeal to, for instance, opponents of affirmative action. Unfortunately, I don’t think that these arguments will have widespread appeal. They may also backfire among other groups of potential supporters: many people on the political left, and some on the political right, love unions.

Later in the piece, Hodgson writes:

Perhaps without realizing, enforcement proponents are also facilitating the rise of an expensive police-state apparatus, and not just at the border. The reality is that one can only enforce strict movement controls and legal inequalities with police-state tactics such as inland checkpoints, encroaching surveillance, a militarized border, and the imposition of law-enforcement duties on private individuals.

I’m glad that Hodgson rejects extreme versions of economic determinism, which argue that it is not possible to curtail migration through enforcement. Instead, he acknowledges (like I do) that enforcement methods can cut down on migration, but also that these measures exact costs on citizens interacting with the migrants, costs that, if people thought more about, might make them less enthusiastic about supporting some enforcement measures.

Nonetheless, I am pessimistic about whether natives will be able to connect the dots between harsher immigration enforcement and the consequent reduction in their own liberties. I would cite for justification of my pessimism the lack of outrage over many forms of intrusion, kill lists, and erosions of due process that have occurred historically around the world, typically in the context of perceived threats of terrorism and foreign threats. Admittedly, there may be many liberties that people are willing to give up in the face of (perceived) threats of terrorism that they would be loath to part with merely to keep out immigrants, so some of my pessimism may be unwarranted.

My main disagreement with Hodgson is regarding his leading para:

The day is rapidly approaching when the epithet “nativist” will carry as much power as “racist.” Not only is nativism — the practice of favoring the established inhabitants of a country over recent immigrants — hateful and based on a fallacy; its destructive consequences are becoming more apparent by the day.

While I look forward to the day when citizenism is a fringe idea, I really doubt that the day is “rapidly approaching.” The arguments that Hodgson makes in his article do not show that citizenism is empirically becoming weaker. It may be that to Hodgson and FFF readers, the “destructive consequences [of citizenism] are becoming more apparent by the day” but I doubt this is the case among the masses at large. Joe Arpaio, a very public face of restrictionism in Arizona, has repeatedly won re-election. Even outside the immigration context, I haven’t noticed any decline of citizenist rhetoric in recent years, either in the US or elsewhere, though I certainly don’t follow political debates closely.

To be clear, I do think that over the long run (a scale of a few decades) citizenist ideas will become less popular. I do not, however, see evidence of its rapid decline. In the short run, I think citizenism is thriving, though the efforts of people like Hodgson may be chipping it away at the edges.

Imaginary lines: the borders of Southeast Asia and the Nusantara

As I write, a stand-off has been ongoing in East Malaysia for almost a month: the Sultan of Sulu, who in reality is a private Filipino citizen with no sovereignty in his own right, ordered his paramilitary forces to press his historic claim to the territory of Sabah, which has been a state of Malaysia since 1963. Already dozens have died in the conflict. The conflict is a sad reminder of the generally arbitrary and somewhat accidental nature of many borders: it’s purely an accident of history that the main territory of Sulu passed to the Philippines instead of Malaysia, and that its hereditary Sultan is today a Filipino instead of a Malaysian.

Farish Noor, a respected Malaysian scholar who currently teaches in Singapore, recently authored an excellent piece on the subject. Even if you are otherwise completely uninterested in the region, I think it makes for fascinating reading. Farish is by training a historian, and he does a fantastic job of illustrating how the modern nation-state maps rather awkwardly to the way people historically have led their lives, and even awkwardly to the way people live today. A snippet:

Sabahans have never had a problem with other communities settling there, and that is why we still see large numbers of Suluks, Bajaos, Malays and Chinese across the state, settling into mixed families or into smaller settlements. Furthermore Sabahans are attuned to the reality of living in a fluid archipelago, which is why its coastal settlements have always been transit points where people from abroad come in and out with ease.

Just before the Lahad Datu incident I was informed that a large number of Suluks had arrived for a wedding, and they came in without passports and visas, and left peacefully afterwards.

It has been like that in Sabah since my childhood. But my fear is that culture of openness and fluidity came to an untimely and graceless end when some of the followers of the Sultan of Sulu landed with guns and rocket-launchers.

Historian Benedict Anderson chose Indonesia as the classic example of an “imagined community” for a reason: most Southeast Asian states have no real reason to follow the boundaries they do today. The Nusantara (the Malay name for the Malay archipelago, which today maps more or less to Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Brunei, Timor Leste, and possibly some other states/territories I’ve neglected to name) has historically been, as Farish says, “a fluid space.” The nation-state is an extremely blunt instrument that maps poorly to the multitude of identities — many of which are blended and melded in the same person or household — forming the cultural patchwork of Southeast Asia. The divisions on this map below map more to the arbitrary carving up of the Nusantara by colonial powers in the 19th century than they do to any meaningful differences between their peoples, then or now:


Does this mean we should abolish the nation-state? Work towards no borders, instead of open borders? Not necessarily so, and again Farish is incredibly insightful on this point — so insightful that it’s difficult not to quote him almost in full:

Gone are the days when a Malaysian, Filipino or Singaporean would be born in his country, study in the same country, work and die in the same country. In the near future, we may well live to see the birth of the first ASEAN [Southeast Asian equivalent of the European Union] generation who are born in one country, study in another, work in another and die in another, all the while feeling that he or she is still at home, in Southeast Asia.

But for this to happen, we cannot bypass the nation-state entirely; for we need the nation-state in order to transcend the nation-state. We need the nation-state to evolve where it may one day accept the reality that its citizens have multiple origins, multiple destinies, multiple and combined loyalties.

We need to work towards an ASEAN future where our governments may come to accept our complex, confounding hyphenated identities as something normal, and not an anomaly; when someone who is Javanese-Dutch-Indian-Arab like me can claim to come from Indonesia, be born in Malaysia, work in Singapore and love the Philippines.

Ironically, this is the impasse we are at today: To revive our collective memory of a shared Southeast Asian past, we need to work with and through the nation-state as the dominant paradigm that governs international relations.

Like Farish, I see no necessity for the abolition of the nation-state. The nation-state is a tool of governance; it is not a suicide pact. Where the nation-state furthers our lives by protecting us from harm and pursuing the common interest, all is well. But we should not ramshackle the nation to the state and the state to the nation.

I am the global version of Farish’s ASEAN citizen: I am of Chinese-Filipino descent, born in Japan, raised in Singapore and Malaysia, studied in the US and the UK, and now working in the US. I have multiple affiliations, loyalties, identities. These are just as arbitrary as the accidents of fate that determine which sports team you root for, and yet no less meaningful. We have learned to live and let live in our sporting affiliations (for the most part, the occasional European football or Canadian hockey riot notwithstanding), recognising their arbitariness but reveling in their significance. We can do the same with the nation-state and its borders.

Borders serve a purpose: they delineate the laws and institutions which govern a territory. To the extent that our legal institutions need to track comings and goings of people, just as they do with goods or services, they can erect border checkpoints and controls. To the extent that they need to maintain order and forestall invasion, they can forcibly keep people out at these checkpoints. But that is all. We need not make a fetish out of these borders: they are significant but arbitrary boundary markers. There is no reason beyond prejudice to arbitrarily keep some people out, and arbitrarily let others in. When we keep people from seeking gainful employment, when we keep friends and families apart, we need a good reason to do so.

The nation-state once was an instrument for oppression: initially oppression of domestic subjects by the sovereign, later the oppression of foreigners in distant lands. Over time, we have discarded the oppressive aspects of the nation-state, and embraced the state’s furtherance where it seems beneficial. And so as Farish says, the clarion call for open borders is not to abolish the nation-state: it is to take the nation-state toward the next step in its evolution.