Tag Archives: moral relevance of countries

Public schooling for immigrants’ kids — why’s it a problem?

One of the common complaints of critics of migration is the welfare state/fiscal burden objection, or more specifically, the observation that migrants impose a net fiscal burden on the receiving countries. In many countries, such as the United States, migrants’ access to means-tested social safety nets is restricted, and it could in principle be restricted further. Perhaps for this reason, one of the main items that contributes to the “cost” side of the fiscal ledger for migrants is the cost of free (i.e., government-funded) schools for the children of immigrants. In this post, I’ll take a closer look at the objection in light of a few different possible belief systems regarding how education must be funded.

In one important respect, however, the specifics of the belief systems are irrelevant to my broader point. In each case, I will consider a possible general principle, and then note the tension between that principle and a differential treatment of migrants and natives. In other words, for each position on the purpose and funding of education, I am questioning what Sebastian calls the moral relevance of countries while applying that principle.

Education as private good that should be funded privately

On this view, schooling and education should be paid for privately, either by the student, or the parents, or through private philanthropy, or educational loans. If you take this view, then it would be correct to view the cost of schooling immigrants’ kids in government schools as a subsidy from the government to the immigrants. But there is nothing in this view that distinguishes immigrants’ kids — the same rules apply for natives. People who take this view should be advocating the separation of school and state, not complaining about immigrant consumption of schooling alone.

Education as state investment or social investment

According to this view, which is more widely held, the state invests in the schooling of children, helping them acquire human capital, and then recoups its investment in the form of taxes when the children become adults. By this theory, it’s not immigration that we should be concerned about, it’s emigration — the worry should be that kids will consume schooling, then emigrate to other countries and enrich those other countries with the human capital they acquired (incidentally, this concern has been voiced, but largely in the context of brain drain from underdeveloped countries). As long as the kids plan to live and work in the same country after completing their schooling, the fact that they’re immigrants should not cause any worry (and incidentally, this also provides a purely pragmatic “cost-recovery” argument against deportation — why deport people after having invested in their education, before the investment can be recouped?). At any rate, comparing the money that the state spends on the kids with the fiscal contributions of the kids’ parents seems at odds with this theory. If one really believed that the money spent on children’s education should be related to their parents’ (rather than their own) fiscal contributions, one should probably revert to some form of the private parent-funded view of education.

Another related point is that in many places, such as the United States, educational funding is at the state and local rather than national (federal) level, so that even if people stay within the country, they may move to another state. This points in the direction of being concerned not only about immigrants, but also about natives who are likely to move between states. Given that a lot of natives, particularly those at higher skill levels (and hence, the people likely to have higher incomes and pay higher taxes), spend their adult lives in a different state than where they spend their childhood, this is a big problem for the “education as investment” theory.

Yet another point may be that educational investment for certain kinds of students simply doesn’t yield a good return on investment, and immigrants are disproportionately represented in those categories. But if you believe that, you should advocate curriculum reform, introduction of vocational education, an end to compulsory schooling, and/or more stringent performance criteria for eligibility for government-funded schooling, not complain about immigrant overuse of educational resources.

Education as moral right

This view is also widely held. According to this view, all members of the community deserve an education, regardless of whether it helps make them economically productive. However, there is a tension between the language of moral rights and the concern that people should coercively be prevented from using the resource. One has to have a very strong citizenistic view to believe that this right extends to citizens. However, even to the extent that it applies only to citizens, many of the children of immigrants whose schooling is considered a downside of immigration are either already citizens or are on a path to citizenship. Perhaps there is currently uncertainty as to whether they will eventually become citizens, or perhaps you believe that they should not become citizens. Nonetheless, childhood is a uniquely optimal period for providing education. This suggests that, if there’s a reasonable probability of their becoming citizens, and if education is indeed a moral right, then educating the children of immigrants is morally required.

Is citizenism a commonly held belief system?

Here at Open Borders: The Case, we have devoted a large number of blog posts to critiquing citizenism. Some others on the open borders side have been critical of this resource allocation decision. One criticism is that by devoting so much attention to citizenism, we’re giving it more serious consideration than it deserves. This sentiment was echoed in a comment by Andy Hallman for instance.

Citizenism would deserve consideration if it were either plausible or popular. As Bryan Caplan writes:

As a rule, I do not respond to positions that are neither plausible nor popular.

So, is citizenism either plausible or popular? If we look at the explicit origins of citizenism, we might be tempted to think otherwise. The term “citizenism” has been coined by Steve Sailer, who, while doubtless considerably more widely read than Open Borders, is quite controversial himself, and hardly mainstream. The use of the term hasn’t caught on much outside a few select circles: Sailer’s ideological fellow travelers on the one hand, and a few other blogs such as Open Borders and EconLog on the other.

Even among Sailer’s ideological fellow travelers, consent to the term is far from unanimous. For instance, the very first commenter on one of Sailer’s posts on citizenism begins with “Citizenism deserves all the scorn it gets, no doubt about that.”

I believe that even though few people explicitly subscribe to the tenets of citizenism as formulated by Sailer, most restrictionist arguments, particularly those that refer to the harms to immigrant-receiving countries, implicitly make their normative claims using citizenist reasoning — they weigh the interests of natives/citizens much higher than that of non-citizens, and view this as a legitimate basis for immigration restrictions. Citizenism is an important undercurrent in the majority of restrictionist thinking and perhaps even in some mainstream pro-immigration circles.

A more general framing it is that a lot of people subscribe to the moral relevance of countries. But, the mere assertion that countries have considerable moral relevance could be interpreted and made more concrete through a number of different normative ethical perspective such as:

  • Citizenism, the idea that national governments and citizens should give primacy to the interests of current citizens (and their descendants). Citizenism may be justified by neocameralism or some variant thereof.
  • Territorialism, the idea that national governments should give primacy to the interests of people within the geographic area of the nation-state, regardless of their citizenship status.
  • Local inequality aversion, the idea that local inequality within national boundaries is an evil in and of itself, independent of global inequality.
  • Nation as family, a variant of citizenism which asserts that the family is a useful metaphor for the nation, and that the head of family is the nation-state’s government.
  • “Maximize the average” type views, where the goal is to maximize the average indicators of the nation as it is constituted in the future, through appropriate migration, deportation, and extermination policies.
  • Love for the physical land or specific cultural capital of the nation-state as a motivator for national government policy, independent of whether people are willing to pay to preserve these.
  • “Proposition nation” theories: Here, the goal is to preserve specific values or institutions associated with the nation, such as slavery, ethnic strife, democracy, free markets, or a large welfare state.

All of these are important and they interact in interesting ways, but I contend that citizenism is one of the more important formalizations of the moral relevance of countries. Later in the post, I will return to the question of why it isn’t more explicitly embraced or discussed in mainstream circles, and why it took a relatively heterodox figure like Steve Sailer to articulate it clearly.

Sophisticated citizenism among policy wonks and social scientists

A passage from a recent op-ed by Tyler Cowen (which has been praised by David Henderson on EconLog and many of my Facebook friends) notes and critiques the citizenistic underpinnings of many policy analyses relating to immigration:

“Imagine that it is your professional duty to report a cost-benefit analysis of liberalizing immigration policy. You wouldn’t dream of producing a study that counted “men only” or “whites only,” at least not without specific, clearly stated reasons for dividing the data. So why report cost-benefit results only for United States citizens or residents, as is sometimes done in analyses of both international trade and migration?”

For some other examples of citizenistic arguments from an unexpected quarter — leftists in the UK — see here and here (HT: co-blogger John Lee for both links). Here’s a relevant quote from the latter (emphasis added, not in original):

I would guess that it remains the common sense assumption of 90 per cent of British citizens that public policy should give preference to the interests of citizens before non-citizens should the two conflict: that does not mean you cannot be an internationalist, or believe that it is a valuable part of our tradition to offer a haven to refugees, or believe that all humans are of equal moral worth and if they are in British space are entitled to certain basic rights. But it does mean that the first call on our resources and sense of obligation begins with our fellow citizens.

And this should be a central principle underlying immigration policy that the authors do not spell out robustly enough: immigration policy must be designed to serve the interests of existing British citizens, especially poorer ones. [see also our master race page] It is true that it is not always easy to work out what those interests are. It is also true that Matt and Sarah do accept discrimination on grounds of nationality (and reject post-national arguments in favour of global social mobility) and understand that immigrants do not necessarily have the same entitlements as the settled population, but this is all rather tentative and overshadowed by a far more robust and often repeated commitment to a human rights ideology that too often overtly seeks to dissolve the precious distinction between citizen and non-citizen.

In a Facebook post, I posited three possible explanations for the implicit citizenism in policy analyses and policy wonk discussions. Continue reading Is citizenism a commonly held belief system?