This post is about an accusation of hypocrisy leveled at open borders advocates. For the philanthropic possibilities towards open borders, see possibilities for philanthropy towards achieving more migration and/or open borders.
Restrictionists have attacked open borders advocates in a number of ways, but one recurring theme in many attacks is the hypocritical private behavior of open borders advocates. Do open borders advocates donate their money to starving children in Africa? If not, what right do they have to advocate open borders, which, in the restrictionist view, impose costs on natives for gains to foreigners? For instance, john oester:
So following your own children analogy, do you feel it morally appropriate to hold back any funds to allow your own children to live at anything more than the basest subsistence level, including a lack of all luxuries from shoes to a college education, while other people’s children are starving throughout the world? If so, then your actions and irrational favoritism of your spawn, are allowing equally deserving children throughout the world to starve just so your children can have central air conditioning, a new winter coat, or other trapping of such a wasteful American lifestyle. I find you to be a monster that you can possibly sleep at night knowing how many children in Sudan could be saved today if you simply signed over your full paycheck to USAid without delay….the clock is ticking.
It would be tempting for open borders advocates to dismiss this as an ad hominem attack and choose not to reply. However, I think that the concerns raised about open borders advocates’ private hypocrisy need to be addressed, particularly given that many open borders advocates rely on their personal credibility to support their arguments.
Let me begin by pointing out that there are radical utilitarians who argue for affirmative moral obligations to give, not just some, but a lot of, one’s wealth to alleviating poverty and its ill-effects, including to people you may never see or know and who live in far-away lands. And they argue this seriously, not as a reductio ad absurdum or to accuse people of hypocrisy. The utilitarian philosopher Peter Singer has used the drowning child analogy to argue that we are morally obligated to donate a substantial amount of wealth toward poverty alleviation. Singer begins with an observation that most people would sign on to: if your donation can directly save a life for a minor inconvenience to you, you should make the donation. He then goes on to observe, however, that even after you have made the donation, you can make a further donation to save a life, and so on, and therefore you should keep donating until the overall inconvenience to you is sufficiently substantial that donating more is comparably inconvenient to letting a person die. This apparently simple logic has radical implications for how much individuals should donate to poverty alleviation, as per Singer.
Libertarians like me take issue with this consequentialist utilitarian analysis, primarily on the grounds that donating to charity is supererogatory, so even in cases where it saves lives, it is not morally required (for more on my reasoning, see here and here). I would also add that there are a lot of local knowledge and information problems with figuring out what charities do how much good and why. Continue reading “Open borders advocates and private charity” »