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Thursday, April 19, 2018

Is Big Tech A Mortal Enemy of the Republic?

Some on the right were critical of Congress for hauling in Zuckerberg last week to give testimony about Facebook's recent scandals.  They argued that Facebook is a private company and is entitled to freedom of speech and property rights.  Therefore, if Facebook, Google/YouTube, Twitter ("Big Tech") want to ban certain users, or sell customer content, that is their right, a view echoed by U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh in dismissing PragerU's recent lawsuit against YouTube.  Furthermore, they argue, such a proceeding could serve as an ominous precursor to government regulation of content.  While there is certainly merit to these arguments, those on the right that side with or excuse Big Tech merely on this legal premise, are making a colossal error.

Legal Argument
First, from a legal standpoint, this is not just a "free speech" issue.  If these companies had said "we are a left wing platform, and we only allow left wing content, and if you are a conservative you will be shut down," then I would be more sympathetic to the legal argument.  That is not what has happened.

These companies gained users and content providers over many years by adhering to a neutral political policy.  Untold individuals and firms, such as PragerU, built business models around these stated policies and were led to believe the platforms would carry their content if they abided by these policies which only banned content based on "profanity, nudity, or mature content."  As Ben Shapiro demonstrates in this article, and as PragerU demonstrates in its lawsuit, there is overwhelming evidence that these platforms have disproportionately suppressed conservative content that in no way violates its stated policies.  Big Tech's actions in this regard certainly could be construed as a breach of contract if not outright fraud - a massive bait and switch that has caused significant business and monetary damage to a major portion of its customer base.

Further within the legal sphere, some are rightfully arguing that offering customer data to benefit the 2012 Obama campaign was a violation of federal campaign finance laws.  Not only that, but given the ever blurring lines between large corporations and government, how do we know such an in-kind contribution to Obama's campaign was not made with some future quid pro quo in mind?  In this case, where a company is acting as an appendage of a government organization, would not the free speech argument then come back into play?

And, what about the "Christian baker" argument?  Recall that the left believes in forcing businesses to serve customers against the owner's consent.  Why should we politically accede to a double standard in this case?  As long as we advocate freedom of trade publicly, pro-freedom advocates have the moral right to legally challenge enforcement  based on double standards.  Ayn Rand made just this argument in her essay, "A Fairness Doctrine for Education," in her book Philosophy: Who Needs It.

Given this and various other privacy concerns (e.g., Facebook admitted it monitors apps like their Messenger service where users have a reasonable expectation of privacy), and given the size, reach, and importance of these companies, I hold that it was perfectly appropriate to hold a public Congressional hearing to air these concerns and better inform legislators as to the nature and scope of these problems.

Moral Argument
However, focusing only on these legal arguments disregards the far more important moral issues at stake and neglects the larger political context of our culture today. 

These companies are taking action to suppress pro-freedom content which undermines supporters of the American Bill of Rights!  They are part and parcel of a political movement, born in modern universities, that seeks to silence speech that its left-wing proponents deem "offensive,", i.e., violently quash anyone who disagrees with them, particularly conservatives and libertarians who argue for free speech, gun rights, and the American Constitution!  Keep in mind, these companies are not corner grocery stores but are among the largest corporations in the world that control a vast majority of the planet's front end access to the Internet, and they are actively promoting an objectively evil ideology while silencing dissenters.

Note the terms and language these companies use when attempting to justify their crackdown on pro-freedom advocates.  Facebook recently shut down Diamond and Silk, black female Trump supporters, on the grounds that they are "unsafe!"  The insinuation that pro-freedom advocates are "unsafe" or "dangerous" is not a coincidence, but an essential tenet of the modern left in their efforts to crush liberty.

Big Tech has been particularly insidious as they have carried out these attacks without ever pointing their banned customers to exact violations of the stated policy.  In other words, under the guise of a neutral policy, they are declaring pro-freedom content to be inherently "dangerous" or "unsafe."  Such a policy on behalf of the largest curators of information in the world has the effect of normalizing the idea that non-progressive content is dangerous.  By suppressing pro-freedom content under the guise of a neutral policy, Big Tech is purposely conflating pro-freedom content with the concept of danger, which has the effect of ripening the culture to this notion and further serving the movement that has inculcated a generation of students to be anti-free speech. 

The conflation of violence with pro-freedom dissent underlies the modern campus notion of "safe space" and the attempts to shout down or ban conservative speakers.  In this New York Times op-ed,  Professor Lisa Feldman Barret went so far as to argue that speech itself can be a form of violence.  This ideology manifests in curricula and policies that promote critical race theory, a racist theory that criticizes focusing on colorblindness and posits that all white people are guilty of an incurable Original Sin - "whiteness" for which the only cure is confession, repentance, and likely cash payments.  Part of this theory are the concepts of "microagression" and "white privilege" which, again, seek to conflate speech with violence, discussed here.  If you have any doubt these companies are on the vanguard of this intellectual movement, consider Google's firing of James Damore or this recent article which documents how Google instructed managers that "individual achievement" and "objectivity" were examples of "white dominant culture."

Now, if we had a largely free society, and some little company somewhere decided to try and amend its policy to suppress its political opponents, it would largely be merely a legal or contractual issue.  However, in the modern political context, where the academic left is engaged in a political struggle to overthrow the Bill of Rights, by attacking free speech, promoting "speech codes" and lobbying to repeal the 2nd Amendment, where all of Europe and Canada have succumbed to legal speech restrictions and dissenters are being jailed, and where we are already seeing legal attempts to censor content (like this bill to require "fact-checking" of websites), we should regard attempts by major corporations to aid and abet this cause to be morally despicable and a threat to our country! 

Big Tech Hearing Likened to HUAC
The current scenario could be likened, at least in principle, to the late 1940's when Ayn Rand was one of the friendly witnesses who cooperated with the HUAC committee investigating communist infiltration in the United States. At that point in history, communism was a mortal threat to the American Republic as communists sought to spread their evil throughout the world and had state sponsorship in the Soviet Union and throughout Asia.  The 1930's were known as America's "red decade," and, as a Russian emigre, Rand understood the threat posed by communism first-hand as she observed the spread of communist propaganda throughout Hollywood. Although when "[a]sked years later about the hearings, Rand said that they were a "dubious undertaking," "futile," and "nothing but disappointments" she regarded the purpose and goals of the committee to be legitimate.
She did believe, however, that it was acceptable for the committee to ask people whether they had joined the Communist Party, because the Party supported the use of violence and other criminal activities to achieve its political goals, and investigating possible criminal activities was an appropriate role of government. "I certainly don't think it's any kind of interference with anybody's rights or freedom of speech," she said.
Here we can identify a core principle with respect to free speech.  One can say he advocates the overthrow of the government without legal repercussion, but taking action towards that end puts him in legal jeopardy.  Similarly, one could say that they'd like to commit a crime, but if you take action towards that end by plotting with conspirators you leave the realm of "free speech" and enter the realm of criminal action.  Analogously, you cannot acquire weapons in order to overthrow the government and then claim property rights.  You cannot swing your arm into someone's face and claim that their face just got in the way of your freedom of movement.  There is always a context within which individual rights exist.

So, is it ridiculous to suggest that Big Tech is a threat to America in the same way that communism was a threat?  After all, the communist countries had nuclear weapons and large armies.  It's true that Big Tech does not have an army, and, in isolation, it seems silly to suggest that Big Tech is likely to unilaterally overthrow America.  It's not silly when you consider Big Tech as part of a broader intellectual and political movement in which it serves a major role.

Recall, the communists didn't physically attack America - they first worked with intellectual allies in western universities, media, business and arts, to spread propaganda in an effort to ripen the culture and create sympathy for communist political policies - and it worked (see the 1930s)! So, the better question is how is a political movement that seeks to end freedom of speech, suppress dissent, and disarm the populace functionally, legally, or morally different than any other political organization that seeks to overthrow individual rights in America?  The two main criteria for posing an actual threat to undermine or even overthrow America or western precepts of liberty and individual rights, are ideology and means, both of which, like the old communists, are possessed by Big Tech and its allies today.

Conclusion
Whether left wing political movements gain power by force or by vote, the end result will be the same - dictatorship.  Today, there is a real political movement seeking to overthrow the American system that has already had a massive affect on our culture, institutions and legal policies and is actually being implemented throughout the west in once free countries like Britain and Canada. To the extent that these companies use their resources to aid and abet this cause, they are actively seeking to undermine individual rights in this country.   While the legal principles and strategy involved could be debated, at best, Big Tech is engaged in a morally despicable cause that should provoke outrage among advocates of individual rights.   

Monday, April 9, 2018

The Founding Fathers on Immigration: Further Arguments Against "Open-Borders"

Immigration and the American Founding, a paper written in 2012 by Dr. Kevin Portteus, is an excellent analysis of some of the moral, legal, and practical issues related to immigration originally considered by America's Founding Fathers, and, in my opinion, serves as a necessary complement to my recent posts on immigration in a free society. 

Dr. Portteus notes that both sides of the immigration debate have sought to appropriate the Founding Fathers for their own purposes concluding:
The elements of America’s original understanding of immigration have been brought into conflict. There is only one way for America to reconcile American exceptionalism with the preservation of that exceptionalism. The key to resolving the immigration problem is for Americans to readopt the principles of the American Founding as their first principles and as the best practical guide for their politics and policy.
In arguing for sovereignty and against the so-called "open borders" position, I argued that those who claim "people have the right to immigrate" or the "right to movement" commit the fallacy of context-dropping on a massive scale.  They base such a view on a rationalistic conception of individual rights, a topic I explored in-depth in this post.  In contrast to these types, Portteus never drops the historical context of how and why the American government was formed in the first place.  For example, in discussing Jefferson's "radical new conception of the relationship of the British crown and her colonies," he summarizes:
No one has an inherent right to rule, and no one has an indefeasible obligation to submit to rule. Political obligation is the consequence of the voluntary consent of individuals. The 1780 Massachusetts Constitution holds that “The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact.” The formation of political society is thus predicated on the assent of those, who will compose the society. 
The idea, "that each individual must consent to the government, under which he
lives" was "an attack on the English understanding of political obligation, which
was a legacy of European feudalism."  And while proponents of individual rights should rejoice that the American Founders rejected the notion of "feudal obligation," Portteus makes an important distinction:
 In arguing that the principles of the American Founding conferred a right to emigrate from the land of one’s birth, one should not make the mistake of assume that the principle of consent also conferred an inherent right to immigrate to any place of one’s choosing. If “all men are created equal” then consent must be reciprocal among the parties involved.
In other words, people are not obligated to stay in a country, but that does not mean anyone can enter a country.  In a prior post, I argued that since a particular group of people form a government for the expressed purpose of providing for their own common defense, they must elect and grant power to government to represent them in dealing with foreign nations or foreign nationals. Here, Portteus cites the argument that citizens must voluntarily consent to new entrants:
Return to the 1780 Massachusetts Constitution: “The body-politic is formed by a voluntary association of individuals: It is a social compact, by which the whole people covenants with each citizen, and each citizen with the whole people, that all shall be governed by certain laws for the common good.” Every member of a political community must consent to live, not just with the laws of that political community, but with the other members of the community. Failure to do so would mean that no political community is formed between the parties.  
He puts it succinctly: "Just as the individual must consent to live within the community, the community must consent to the membership of each individual. Once this is accomplished, each of the contracting parties becomes a citizen." In other words, "Mutual or reciprocal consent is dictated by the principle of natural equality. If an immigrant can successfully impose himself on a political community, in violation of its laws, then the relation between the immigrant and the community is not a relationship of equals." Furthering this argument, Portteus writes:
It follows from this theory of consent that the whole people must consent to each individual’s membership in that society. As Gouverneur Morris argued in the Convention, “every society from a great nation down to a club had the right of declaring the conditions on which new members should be admitted.” The United States Constitution grants to Congress the power “to establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization.” The people have delegated to Congress the power to fix the terms under which America will consent to an immigrant become a member of the American political community. If the immigrant wishes to become a citizen and chooses to abide by those conditions, then citizenship shall be conferred upon him. The American people are collectively represented by their government, which speaks for them, through the law, in deciding who shall be admitted as a new member of the political community.
In relation to the idea that there is not an inherent right to immigrate, Portteus considers Madison, in Federalist 43, who dealt with the very real possibility that some colonies would not join the union as at that time, since North Carolina and Rhode Island had failed to ratify, asking "what if one or more states refused to ratify? What would be the relationship between the nation under the Constitution and the refractory states?" Although Madison states that in dealing with non-ratifying states "the rights of humanity must in all cases be duly and mutually respected" he recognized that "no political relation can subsist between the assenting and dissenting states." Portteus concludes:
Moreover, refusal to admit a person into a political community does not constitute a violation of his rights. A person who is denied entrance into a country is not denied any inherent natural right. He is perfectly free to go elsewhere, or even to form his own political community, and to take any necessary and proper measures to secure his own rights."  In other words, while an individual has the right to leave a country if he does not assent to its terms, he does not have a positive right to enter or immigrate to another country without the approval of the citizens of that country.  
In my posts, I argued that merit-based immigration is an objectively essential component of the government's function in securing the rights of its own citizens.  Portteus turns to this topic noting that "not only do the Founders’ principles confer a right to restrict immigration, they also confer an obligation to do so under certain circumstances. As a self-governing regime, America must be particularly concerned about the character and beliefs of its citizens."  He writes:
Not only must Americans share a common set of fundamental political principles, they must also be possessed of a certain character. Madison asserts in Federalist 55 that “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind, which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.”
He discusses Jefferson's concerns that "admitting persons who are not prepared poses a fundamental problem for the American experiment. Jefferson continues: “They will bring with them the principles of the governments they leave, imbibed in their early youth; or, if able to throw them off, it will be in exchange for an unbounded licentiousness, passing, as is usual, from one extreme to another. It would be a miracle were they to stop precisely at the point of temperate liberty.”

In general, we can say that the Founders regarded the immigration of virtuous and oppressed people to be desirous and beneficial to America.  Washington once said that he “had always hoped that this land might become a safe and agreeable Asylum to the virtuous and persecuted part of mankind, to whatever nation they might belong..  But note, here and in other instances, they qualify their desire to take in immigrants to those who merit entry, i.e., the "virtuous."  And while each Founder certainly differed in degree, they certainly recognized it was a necessary and appropriate function of a sovereign government (legally, morally, and practically) to regulate immigration, i..e, they rejected the concept of unlimited immigration or so-called "open borders" as it's referred to today.

A full analysis of this paper is beyond my scope, but  I recommend reading the entire piece to better achieve a balanced understanding of important historical facts and principles offered by the most brilliant political thinkers in history.   

Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Objectivists Really Disagree on Immigration, Part 2

Introduction 

A few months ago, I published a post titled Why Objectivists Really Disagree on Immigration, Part 1, which followed another detailed post I published (all of my posts on immigration are here).  In the former post, I challenged some of the essential claims made by Dr. Harry Binswanger who has published various articles defending "a policy of absolutely open immigration, without border patrols, border police, border checks, or passports" where our border would consist only of "a sign saying Welcome to America."  In my view, Binswanger's original post was one of the only honest, albeit egregiously flawed, articles consistently supporting the so-called open borders position.

I pointed out that Dr. Binswanger ultimately pivoted from this pure open borders position to advocating some border control (for disease, criminals, etc.) although he never explicitly admitted to this significant change nor did he identify or elucidate the important principles underlying his transformation from welcome signs to border controls.  In fact, his pivot cried out for further explanation.  After all, if there is no need for a border in principle, as he claims, and it is a violation of the rights of immigrants to not allow entry, how can we justify even checking them for disease?  The police cannot stop American citizens and ask them if they are diseased.  The police cannot stop American citizens without probable cause that they have committed a crime.  If pure open borders advocates really believe in applying the law this way, how do they justify any impediment on the border?  He never explained this and simply smuggled it in as a kind of obvious exception, which it is not, given his basic premise.

As the debate continued, I noted that he then attempted to explain away disagreement within the community, not by clarifying his own position, but by declaring that everyone agreed with him in principle, lamenting only that his policy was not "politically realistic" due to the absence of a utopia (of free markets, no disease and no criminals?).  Oh, and by the way, he argued that anyone who disagrees with his ambiguous position is a xenophobe (which, I pointed out, is a smear meant to stifle open and honest debate.)

First, notice that as a result of blithely claiming that everyone agrees with him, the original debate regarding his premise of pure open borders was never challenged.  Consequently, many of his followers still believe that the pure open borders position is correct in principle, just not realistic at the present time.  Therefore, while this crowd now gives credence to the argument that we need some border, at least right now, the residue of hostility and moralizing emanating from this original premise has never faded.

In fact, the nature of his pivot and various equivocations resembles and likely helped provoke a larger pivot within the Objectivist community which took place in an equally inexplicit way. Binswanger pivoted to a border control position without ever confessing to the need for an actual border in principle (because, to him, borders are only necessary in a non-fantasy world).  Essentially, this gave the open borders crowd license to argue along the lines that they really are open borders although they, of course, don't support a completely open border right now, because criminals and disease, (although they never specify how we would determine that), while likening dissent to support for a xenophobic Gestapo bent on rounding up Mexican gardeners.

At this point, I believe there are few if any serious defenders of pure open borders in practice, that is, a country with no border police, immigration controls, checkpoints, etc.  that would allow an unlimited number of foreign nationals to enter the country at any time for any reason.  The most ardent defenders of the so-called open borders position when pushed will admit, like Binswanger, that we at least need to keep out diseased, terrorist criminals - or something like that.  I think it is more fair to say that the debate has morphed from open borders vs. controlled borders (which really was no borders vs. borders) to a debate over lightly restrictive immigration vs. more restrictive immigration.

However, because of the lack of principled and integrated thinking on the immigration issue, new points of contention have emerged provoking heated debates.  Also, even within the context of this more limited debate in which open borders types have shifted, the hostility and logical inconsistency of the open borders position has persisted since their initial premises were never fully overturned in their minds.  The purpose of the following is to identify these significant premises, analyze them in a proper integrated context, and expose an even deeper philosophical problem that I see within this community that causes such debates to fester as long as they have.

Immigration Policy, A Rationalistic Approach

In my post, Is There a Right to Immigrate, I claimed the main reason that this debate has metastasized into a full blown intellectual war is the lack of contextualized thinking with regard to the government's role in protecting individual rights in the context of a sovereign nation.  A series of errors have been committed by advocates of pure open borders which need to be called out.

I have observed that most advocates of the "right to immigrate" argument start with an out-of-context, rationalistic, assertion of individual rights from which they proceed to deduce conclusions. "Everyone has rights" they will begin, "and therefore, any immigrant should be able to immigrate here freely at any time for any reason."  This argument commits the fallacy of context-dropping on a massive scale, and more fundamentally, it fails to grasp that the concept of individual rights exists within a broader philosophical framework.  Such an argument is precisely why so many Objectivists used to criticize Libertarians who uphold "liberty" and cite the "initiation of force" principle as some kind of political commandment rather than as part of a broader system of philosophy.

If you take the rationalistic approach of upholding rights, out of context, consider how you would answer the following questions. Readers of this blog likely uphold freedom of production and trade, so should a private company have the right to sell advanced military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran? Private property owners have the right to voluntarily trade and meet with other individuals, but can a private property owner bring in foreign nationals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government - even assuming they don't have weapons on them right now? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? What if a group of property owners decide to import fifty million Islamic radicals who seek to take over local jurisdictions and impose Sharia law?  Should we allow China, India, Pakistan, Iran, North Korea, Somalia, and Syria to relocate half of their populations to the United States if they so choose?

Immigration Policy, An Inductive Approach

Of course, those who simply hold the "people have rights" principle as a floating abstraction either cannot answer these questions, or must answer them in a way that flies in the face of common sense.  Instead, let's consider the question inductively, i.e., let's start with the facts that give rise to government and sovereignty in the first place so we can see how to apply the concept in practical situations and easily answer the questions posed above.

Individuals possess rights, by virtue of being human, but the fact is that individuals must take specific actions in order to protect those rights in a social context.  Rights are not respected out of thin air.  There is not a magical entity that emerges from the universe to protect our rights.  People must create and sustain the actual means through which they attempt to protect the rights to which they are entitled.

When a group of property owners and individuals agree to form a government to protect each other's rights and provide for the common defense, they create a sovereign "nation" by virtue of that agreement (like the thirteen colonies did under the U.S. Constitution).  They grant the government certain enumerated powers, and that particular government is created by and for those particular people - the citizens.  That particular government can take many different forms but, in essence, it is the framework by which those particular people choose to protect their rights.

Those people and their government are a sovereign nation, and one of the primary functions for which individuals create a government in the first place is to protect themselves from foreign threats or invasion.   Therefore, they elect and grant power to government to represent them in dealing with laws, treaties, and military affairs as it pertains to foreign nations or foreign nationals. The threats and various conflicts stemming from foreign relations can take different forms and a foreign policy must be defined and implemented, to fairly and objectively deal with foreigners while respecting the rights of its own citizens.

Note the flow here.  It starts with property owners and citizens seeking to protect their rights by forming a government within their lands.  The people, through their representative government, then look out at the world and say "how do we protect ourselves from the rest of the world's bad guys, while dealing beneficially with good guys?"

The Critical Context of International Border Versus Intranational Border

The citizens, by definition, formed and sustain that particular government (which represents them) and are bound by its laws.  The legal concept of citizenship is the vehicle by which a government and those it represents formally acknowledge that agreement.  Naturalization is the legal process by which an individual becomes recognized as a citizen and acquires the particular guarantees and responsibilities of citizenship under that jurisdiction.

So, can one private property owner trade with foreigners or bring foreigners into the country without the implicit or explicit consent of the rest of the country?  The short answer is no.  Domestic government policy protects the rights of the citizens within the country who are bound by its laws.  When citizens operate internationally, and not intranationally, they enter a different legal context with respect to their fellow citizens.  In effect, by virtue of any unilateral action, they expose their fellow citizens to potential threats from non-citizens without receiving consent.  So how do they obtain the consent of tens of millions of their fellow citizens every time they want to trade internationally or sponsor an immigrant?  If someone wants to buy a German candy bar, do they have to poll the citizenry or get a petition signed?  If someone wants to sell satellite technology to North Korea do they need to get permission from every citizen?  Such scenarios are exactly the province of foreign policy and immigration policy and are a vital function of the government in its capacity to provide for a common defense.        

These facts establish a critical distinction which is almost always ignored by open borders advocates.  That distinction is between an international and intranational border.   Immigration and trade policies must consider the more complex context of international borders, not just the context of movement or trade between local jurisdictions or across state lines within a free country where there are standing legal agreements between citizens.

When conducting commerce or contemplating immigration policies between two nations that may be allies, enemies, or somewhere in between, such as between the U.S. and China, Britain, Canada, Mexico, North Korea, Russia, Cuba, Venezuela, Iran, or Somalia, it's clear that there are other more primary factors that must be considered.  Since national defense seeks to protect and preserve the very institutions and legal framework that created and sustain the free country, national defense concerns always are primary to economic considerations.  Certainly, it would be appropriate to bar a domestic company from trading military technology to a foreign adversary, even if not in a declared war.  We may also embargo certain countries who are deemed a threat.  If someone wished to buy a German candy bar during World War II, it likely would have been illegal, but in the present context, it would be perfectly fine.   

To further emphasize this idea of differing legal context, note that Article 1, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution grants Congress the power "To regulate Commerce with foreign Nations, and among the several States, and with the Indian Tribes" and "To establish an uniform Rule of Naturalization."

Foreign Policy Cannot Be Arbitrary

A sovereign nation is comprised of the private property owners and individuals that elected and fund that government within that border.  However, unlike an individual property owner who can capriciously decide with whom he wishes to deal or allow on his property, since the government represents a group (the country), not a single individual, it must represent the interests and protect the rights of all the citizens of the sovereign nation in determining its foreign policies.  Since the government represents everyone, its foreign policy cannot be arbitrary, unlike an individual property owner, nor can it reflect the whims of a democratic mob.  The government's job is to act as an agent of its citizens when formulating policies, treaties, or laws with foreign nations or foreign nationals, and these polices must be based on objective law.     

What is a Foreign Threat?

One of the primary functions of the national government is the protection of the country from foreign threats.  When immigration is rightly seen as part of our nation's foreign policy, it becomes obvious that to advocate protecting ourselves from enemies abroad based on rational foreign policy concerns, while not concerning ourselves with potential enemies crossing our own border, is a wild contradiction.  Both aspects of defense are crucial and complementary.

In my prior post, I define "threat" in the foreign policy context, and stress the necessity to identify such threats contextually since the nature of any given threat changes over time.  Any nation, group, or individual that has both motive to destroy us (e.g., communists, Islamists, etc.) and the means to accomplish it, constitutes a real threat.  Consequently, a reasonable and desirable goal of foreign policy is to identify objectively hostile ideologies which serve as motives for attack, and to assess other nations' or groups' military ability to achieve an attack. That is the job of the defense and intelligence agencies.

The Importance of Ideology as Litmus Test

Note that this allows us to identify another crucial principle that flies in the face of the open borders crowd who often decry the use of "ideology" as a litmus test for determining immigration policy.  While in certain contexts, the government should absolutely not pass judgment on ideology, e.g, free speech cases where no threat is involved - in other contexts, it's crucial.  

In foreign policy, ideology is motive and is one crucial factor in ascertaining threats.  Now, further context must be established.  Are we assessing one person who is a leftist but is going to work for a computer software firm for two months and then leaving, or, are we assessing a radical Muslim who tweets favorably about martyring himself for ISIS who wants to establish residency permanently?  The open borders advocate must equate these two night and day scenarios.  Referring to the latter, the open border advocate says, "He's not a criminal - yet - and we cannot judge his ideology, so must we allow him entry." No, we should not! 

To further emphasize this point, imagine if our foreign policy establishment was told not to consider ideology in assessing threats from around the world.  Under this view, shouldn't Canadians be regarded as likely as Iranian Islamists to attack us - maybe more given their proximity and military capability?  Declaring "ideology" off limits, in this context, is suicidal. 

How Immigration Policy Differs Critically from Policy Abroad

A) Immigration Can Affect the Polity 
While I have categorized immigration policy as a sub-set of the broader foreign policy, it's important to note how immigration in particular is different from policies that affect the trading of goods or that affect individuals in nations abroad.

If one imports a bottle of wine, assuming its from a non-enemy country, it has little to no effect on any other citizen.  But importing people can have an effect in myriad ways, even in a relatively free economy.  As Ralph Raico wrote: "Free immigration would appear to be in a different category from other policy decisions, in that its consequences permanently and radically alter the very composition of the democratic political body that makes those decisions."  In other words, people coming into a country can necessarily affect the very democratic institutions and policies that govern the country.  This is of particular concern today as Democrats move to import legions of voters sympathetic to their socialist political goals.

B) Mass Migration vs. Limited Migration 
Another critical context in ascertaining threat is that of limited migration versus mass migration which is a huge source of equivocation in immigration debates.  Obviously, two immigrants in a nation of 300 million people could have very little effect on the host country, but what if fifty or one hundred million immigrants from India or China sought to land in America?  Numbers and size do matter, and, unlike virtually any other foreign policy consideration, the act of allowing mass numbers of foreign nationals into a country of private property owners can irrevocably change the very institutions of government.

Not only are large groups of immigrants more likely to form their own community rather than assimilate, they are an electoral (and physical) threat to overthrow existing institutions.  Imagine if millions of immigrants from a hostile country essentially took over a city, state, or region with the intention of changing the form of government or affecting national policy or attacking the current residents?    

C) Immigration Can Affect the Culture and Thus the Polity
Objectivist intellectuals have been arguing for generations that fundamental ideas move the world, and that in order to save western civilization, we must promote good ideas.  Furthermore, they have argued that politics is an effect of those ideas, not their primary cause.  In other words, they have argued that once we change the culture by promoting reason, individual rights, and capitalism, then the effect will be good politicians and policies that reflect those values.

If this is true, shouldn't we be concerned about importing masses of people who may not share our culture's reverence for reason, freedom, self-responsibility, and limited government?  Wouldn't an injection of even more people with ideas hostile to objectively pro-freedom policies push us further away from America's founding principles and spirit if not completely overthrow the American system?

Oddly enough, these same intellectuals, to the extent they promote open borders, are now telling us we should reject restricted, merit-based immigration in favor of an open borders policy which must be rigidly non-ideological.  We are admonished by these same intellectuals, many of whom have devoted their lives to proudly championing western ideas and values, that opposing the unlimited immigration of foreign nationals without screening for merit, character, or ideology is actually xenophobic and bigoted.

These same intellectuals, who warn us of the dangers of a rapidly declining culture of reason and freedom on the brink of collapse, tell us that to uphold restricted, merit-based immigration demonstrates a lack confidence in western culture!  They chastise border advocates for thinking that America's culture, which they are supposedly fighting to change and rescue from imminent collapse, will be inexorably affected by massive numbers of people who are hostile to western culture.

And why do they think hordes of third world immigrants, many of whom are hostile to western precepts of law, individual rights, and civilization or even advocate for the profoundly misogynistic and oppressive Sharia law, will be transformed through cultural osmosis? Well, they tell us, we should just assume that they are all good people.  And if you don't engage in their positive bigotry, which presumes all immigrants are good without evidence, then you are the bigot for even questioning that they may not be budding Thomas Jeffersons.

While cultural disintegration is a more abstract threat than an enemy army on the border, it is nevertheless a crucial component of broad threat assessment, particularly when developing policies regarding mass migration, quotas, or any policy related to large groups of foreign nationals entering the country.  The effects of the recent mass Muslim migration into Europe is a prime example of ignoring this principle.

D) Immigration in the Context of a Mixed Economy
Policy abroad is largely indifferent to domestic economic policy, but immigration policy is not.  So far, we have been considering mostly the context of a free economy, i.e., a state presumed to not have any welfare programs or subsidies in which the immigrant is essentially on their own.  What about a mixed economy where there are taxes, welfare schemes, and subsidies?

Many economists try to link free trade to free immigration under the notion that people, or labor is "atomistic" like a good of some kind. But, in an exchange of goods, there is always a willing participant on both sides of the transaction, whereas free immigration is not analogous. In this article,  Hans-Herman Hoppe disputes the idea that an immigrant should be considered "invited" because he has been hired by an employer:
Under welfare-statist condition the immigrant employer must pay only a small fraction of the full costs associated with the immigrant’s presence. He is permitted to socialize (externalize) a substantial part of such costs onto other property owners. Equipped with a work permit, the immigrant is allowed to make free use of every public facility: roads, parks, hospitals, schools, and no landlord, businessman, or private associated is permitted to discriminate against him as regards housing, employment, accommodation, and association. That is, the immigrant comes invited with a substantial fringe benefits package paid for not (or only partially) by the immigrant employer (who allegedly has extended the invitation), but by other domestic proprietors as taxpayers who had no say in the invitation whatsoever. This is not an “invitation,” as commonly understood. This is an imposition.
In a free economy, immigration policy is necessary as a means of self-defense. In a welfare state, even in a case where an immigrant is invited by an employer, immigration presents an unwanted cost on the rest of the taxpaying public that must be considered.

Do American Citizens Have a Moral Duty to the Rest of the World?
Just as we do not have a duty to invade an oppressive dictatorship, or police the world for criminals, no country has a moral obligation to serve the millions of suffering individuals on earth.  It is practically beneficial for us to deal with foreign nations fairly, objectively as we rationally seek to live in a world of benevolent alliances and mutual cooperation.  However, there is no legal obligation for a nation's citizens to extend its jurisdiction outside of its border.  For states who wish to join the Union, they would need to go through the same process as the first fifty states to be formally recognized.  Therefore, the policies by which our country deals with foreign nationals is and should be reasonable and a matter of law (not fiat), but the concept of rights does not impose an obligation or duty on the citizens of a nation to extend its own government's jurisdiction to anyone who asks for any reason.

In any given context, it may be perfectly reasonable and advantageous for a nation to welcome certain immigrants as a matter of policy.  At other times, it may be absolutely suicidal to allow immigration.  There is no absolute policy as the criteria is contextual and based on a foreign defense policy which in turn is based on some objective process of threat assessment that takes into account individual and aggregate level data.  For example, if our policy finds that rogue terrorists are forming in some part of the world intent on committing acts of terror, then a rational policy would ban all immigration from that part of the world until further notice.  If some natural disaster occurs within some allied country, then it might make perfect sense to grant residence to displaced people (America does have such a program called TSP status).

There is No Right to Immigrate

This whole discussion allows us to identify another critical principle.  There is no "right to immigrate into a sovereign nation."  Immigration can only take place with the explicit or implicit consent of the citizens of a sovereign nation whose laws rightfully provide for the common defense.  In the linked post, I make the case that the burden of proof falls on the immigrant or visitor, or his sponsors, to prove they are not a threat or will not impose obligations on others.  If that immigration criteria (developed by the elected representatives of the people) is met, i.e., they are found to not represent a threat under the policy, then it is reasonable for someone to immigrate or visit.

Of course, if this policy is appropriate in a more free market context, how much more important is immigration policy today, where we do have a massive welfare state, where democratic elections can be dramatically affected by immigrant voters who skew left, and where myriad threats from overseas endanger our country?  Again, the facts and context drive the state's policy which exists to protect the rights of its own people.

Summary

Foreign policy deals with international issues that affect the entire citizenry.  The government is the agent of its citizens and must act fairly and objectively in protecting its citizens rights. Regulating foreign trade and dealing with military conflicts are an essential part of the government's function in this regard, but because immigration can affect the composition of the political bodies that govern the country, and because immigration has the potential to directly impose unwanted burdens on fellow citizens, it is of paramount importance that citizens formulate an objective, merit-based immigration system that acts in the best of interests of the citizens to protect their lives, freedom, and sovereignty.

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Trump's Tariff Proposal a Bad Idea

I agree with Peter Schiff from a purely economic standpoint. Tariffs (taxes) on imported steel and aluminum will drive the domestic price of steel and aluminum higher by the amount of the tax. This will actually make American manufacturers (those whose inputs are steel and aluminum like Boeing, Ford, etc.) less competitive with their foreign counterparts whose input prices are not subject to the tariffs. It will drive these American manufacturers further offshore or out of business.  As Frank Shostak notes, while this plan may benefit steel companies in the US who will make a higher profit, it will hurt the far greater number of companies who use steel as an input to their manufacturing process.  He writes: 
[T]he employment data contradicts the logic of Trump’s tariff policy. According to CNBC, while there are about 200,000 workers in the steel, aluminum and iron industries, there are 6.5 million people employed by businesses that use steel. This raises the risk of undermining rather than benefiting the US labor market.
As Schiff explains, why not just make the products that require steel, like a washing machine, outside the US and then export the washing machine, which is not subject to the tariff, back to the US? These tariffs will hurt American consumers by increasing prices, erode our industrial base, and ultimately increase our trade deficit with the rest of the world.
If some so-called "free trade agreement" is not really a free trade agreement and gives advantages or subsidies to some in favor of another then fine, rip it up, and start over with the goal being real free trade. If a trade partner is a military threat or oppresses its people in the manufacturing of goods, then it's appropriate for the American government to prohibit or embargo goods from that country.  But that is hardly the case here.  Note that China is tenth on the list of companies in terms of steel exports to the US. Canada is the number one exporter of steel followed by Brazil and South Korea.   
But the real solution to making American companies more competitive is LESS taxes, less regulations, OR simply more freedom. What we need is less government spending, less taxes, and more savings and capital investment in plant and equipment which makes labor more productive and increases everyone's standard of living.  If on the free market, our companies do not have a comparative advantage, then so be it. It's advantageous for American producers to focus on where they have a comparative advantage, not manufacture goods that others can already produce more efficiently. That is stupid and destructive to the very people it's intended to help.
In general, tariffs are a less awful way to fund government than income taxes.  If we were to cut government spending and replace the income tax with an across the board tariff on imported goods, that would be a reasonable approach.  Picking winners and losers by taxing specific goods while keeping the income tax and even increasing government spending is the worst thing you could do.  

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Obama's Offensive Portrait

The preposterous portrait (say that 10 times) of Obama, unveiled this week, has been effusively praised by the usual sycophants in the MSM while getting panned by sane commenters on social media.  The universally undeniable fact about this portrait is that it is, um, different.  I regard it as positively offensive.

In America, the president is a servant of the people he represents and that voted him into office.  It is an office constitutionally limited both in terms of its power and duration.  The office represents the American spirit of limited government exemplified magnificently by George Washington, the first president.  In other words, the office is bigger than the man who holds it.  A portrait should reflect reverence for this fact, and while I'm sure many presidents were actual scoundrels, the office of the American president and its symbolism is significant for this reason. 

Historically, the presidential portrait has certain norms including a background of an office, the capitol, or something neutral.  While there is and should be a sense of the individual, these portraits have an authentic sense of dignified austerity.  This makes sense given the nature of the American system, and it stands in stark contrast to the self-aggrandizing monuments so common under old monarchies or in modern dictatorships. 

Rather than join the pantheon of American presidents who chose simpler, humbler portraits befitting the symbolic dignity of a freely elected American president, Obama's portrait is an attempt both to upend this tradition and to elevate himself above the office.  It begs and shocks the viewer, screaming, "I am what is important - I'm different - look at me!"  In his central planner mind, his goals and the visions of his cabal of philosopher kings are to be the primary in your life - don't you forget it!  What it says to me is, "I do not understand what it means to be an American," which, sadly, is the theme of his presidency. 

Could I be reading a little too much into this?  I don't think so, particularly considering not only his progressive agenda but also what is now coming out about his administration and his attempts to politicize and weaponize his intelligence and law enforcement agencies.  This was a man who, given enough time, sought to turn America into a banana republic with a full fledged secret police force by which he could harass and intimidate his opposition.  

Don't all presidents do stuff like this?  Yes, but I believe Obama did it shamelessly and to the cheers of the liberals in the mainstream media.  In other words, he acted this way on principle.  How dare those pesky Republicans and these gun-toting flyover state rubes stand in the way of Dear Leader's plans for "progress?"  The progressive mind cannot even contemplate any kind of legitimate opposition to their ideas.  If you oppose them, they believe that you must be either an immoral Nazi or a dimwitted pawn of Fox News and talk-radio.  In their mind, there can be no other explanation.    

One other observation in this regard.  Recall Hillary's campaign slogan "I'm with Her" as compared to Trump's "Make America Great Again."  Note that Hillary, like Obama, emphasizes that she is the center of gravity around which you orbit.  She is not with you - you are with her.  She does not represent you or your aspirations, rather, you must pledge your fidelity to her views and her plans for your future.  Trump's slogan does not connote passive obedience but, rather, positive action.  He, with your help, is going to "make" something happen - for your benefit.  I doubt many people overtly made these connections, but these messages likely get conveyed on some deeper subconscious level.

These seemingly innocuous portraits and slogans often reveal subtle clues to the choices before us.  And as we now unravel the brazen duplicity and Machiavellian scheming of the Obama and Hillary political operations, the takeaway, as always in politics, is pay attention to everything.   

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Biddle's Immigration Fallacy

In this post, Craig Biddle writes: "Although many countries may aptly be described as “shitholes” for being socialist, theocratic, anarchic, or the like, disparaging or maligning people who flee such holes to create a better life for themselves in America is grossly unjust and un-American."  In fact, he regards emanating from a shithole to be a positive virtue, writing: "A person who seeks to escape from a nightmare country in pursuit of the American dream deserves not scorn or disparagement but praise and encouragement." 
He then cites a "thought experiment," which he regards as "obvious," purporting to show that such facts render immigrants to actually be "ambitious and resourceful":  
"Ambitious and resourceful people seek opportunities to improve their lives. If they can’t thrive where they are, they immigrate to where they can (or at least they try). And those who exercise ambition and resourcefulness to come to America tend to continue practicing these virtues once they’re here. They do their best to think, learn, produce, trade, and thrive.
Instead of a "thought experiment," perhaps we should look to an actual experiment - reality.  A recent study summarizes its findings: 
Using newly released detailed data on all prisoners who entered the Arizona state prison from January 1985 through June 2017, we are able to separate non-U.S. citizens by whether they are illegal or legal residents. Unlike other studies, these data do not rely on self-reporting of criminal backgrounds. Undocumented immigrants are at least 142% more likely to be convicted of a crime than other Arizonans. They also tend to commit more serious crimes and serve 10.5% longer sentences, more likely to be classified as dangerous, and 45% more likely to be gang members than U.S. citizens. Yet, there are several reasons that these numbers are likely to underestimate the share of crime committed by undocumented immigrants. There are dramatic differences between in the criminal histories of convicts who are U.S. citizens and undocumented immigrants.
Here is another summary describing a broader GAO study titled "Information on Incarcerations, Arrests, and Costs."  While this data is sobering, to be fair, here is another author who has concerns about the conclusions from these studies, and I should note there have been other past studies purporting to show differing conclusions from these statistical data.  Suffice to say, actual data is probably more reliable than "thought experiments," i.e., rationalistic deductions, and, in fact, the data at worst flatly contradicts Biddle while other studies are mixed at best.     
Biddle's claim is actually based on a form of positive bigotry and a logical fallacy. He claims that the very fact of one's desire to leave a s*hole country is proof of their "moral ambitiousness" that deserves "praise and encouragement." Biddle concludes: "People who immigrate to America from shithole countries to pursue the American dream are ambitious, resourceful, proud."
A friend rightly pointed out that in logic his argument relies on the fallacy of the excluded middle. For example, some penguins are black and white, some old TV shows are black and white, therefore some penguins are old TV shows. Here: some people leave shitholes, some people from shitholes are achievers, therefore people who want to leave shitholes want to be achievers. 
In reality, if someone is getting their ass kicked, living day to day in grinding poverty, and they and/or their family want to get out any way possible, are they necessarily "moral" people seeking a life of "flourishing" and all that entails, or are they just trying to get the hell out any way they can? Does the fact of their desire to leave their present misery automatically transform them into freedom loving Thomas Jeffersons willing to productively assimilate into an advanced society based on western traditions of law and free market individualism?
What if they are told, "Hey, if you get on this boat and make it, there are all sorts of programs, health, education, food, and the like that you can take advantage of when you get there?"  What if they are young and find assimilation difficult and turn to a street gang of friends for support and guidance through which their "ambition" and "resourcefulness" can be put to work? Well, the stats on immigration and incarceration show that this is happening in a vast number of cases. Biddle's post represents positive bigotry of the worst kind. It ascribes all sorts of moral virtue to an individual based on a logical fallacy.
And, it's particularly insidious, because it relies on the reader's benevolence and turns it against them. It's like the argument equivalent of threatening a hunger strike.
Objectivists should be relying on arguments based on rational self-interest which entails thinking through the practical long-term consequences of immigration policies morally, politically, economically and culturally in the context of a sovereign nation. This is what a rational foreign policy must accomplish with respect to immigration. I never thought I would see the day where prominent Objectivist voices were relying on altruistic appeals to emotion and logical fallacies.

Monday, January 22, 2018

Immigration Post Links

Below are links to my past articles on immigration.  I have collected them here for ease of reference.  Future immigration articles will also appear in this index in addition to having their own permalink.  

Complex topics require more than out-of-context cliches, straw men arguments, and the like which usually only lead to hostility.  Rather than debate in that way, I am providing links to my core immigration articles below so the full context of my arguments can be understood.  As I note, immigration is a complex application of philosophy requiring some particular understanding of history, law, economics, ethics and political philosophy among others.  There are many excellent scholars in this area I have drawn from, and it sickens me to see generally decent, thoughtful people attacking each other and talking past one another by engaging in debates without purpose or context.           

1. Philosophical Foundations of Immigration in a Free Society (11/5/2017) 

In 2015, I wrote a short post titled Principles of Immigration in a Free Society geared towards fellow Objectivists and libertarians who have been vehemently debating this issue. I argued that, even in a free society with a rights respecting government, immigration restrictions are perfectly appropriate and necessary as part of the government's national defense function.  Given this, it is even more critical to have restrictive policies today in the context of the threat of Islam, mass migrations from civil wars, our own mixed economy that subsidizes immigrants, and the reality of democratic elections within a nation on the brink where immigrants tend to favor the left (which regards immigrants as an important voting bloc to accomplish their civilization destroying political agenda).

Since that time, the immigration debate has exposed even deeper fundamental philosophical problems that need to be understood and resolved.  If we are to determine the government's proper role regarding immigration, it is important to trace these root philosophic issues that ultimately bear directly on policy. The following is an attempt to briefly categorize and analyze some of these underlying topics and to reiterate some ideas from the original post. 

2. Why Objectivists REALLY Disagree on Immigration (11/27/2017)

Objectivists disagree on immigration because their intellectual leaders have left them with a false alternative, between rationalism and empiricism, that fails to properly address the core facts and questions surrounding this important and complex issue.  I hope by shedding light on even a portion of these flaws, it can lead to a more informed and civil debate and lead to better scholarship in this area and others.   

3. Is There a Right to Immigrate? (12/5/2017)

In the wake of a recent post I wrote on immigration, an argument that keeps arising is the claim that "immigrants have a right to immigrate."  This assertion takes different forms such as, "a border is just a line," or "everyone has the same rights, how can you deny them the same rights you have?" and so on.  I touched on this argument again in another immigration post, but I want to make a more direct argument opposing the premise of this claim.

4.  Biddle's Immigration Fallacy (1/23/2018)

Objectivists should be relying on arguments from rational self-interest which entails thinking through the practical long-term consequences of immigration policies morally, politically, economically and culturally. This is what a rational foreign policy must accomplish with respect to immigration. I never thought I would see the day where prominent Objectivist voices were relying on altruistic appeals to emotion and logical fallacies.

5. Why Objectivists REALLY Disagree on Immigration, Part 2 (3/16/2018)

However, because of the lack of principled and integrated thinking on the immigration issue, various new points of contention have emerged provoking heated debates.  Also, even within the context of this more limited debate in which open borders types have shifted, the hostility and logical inconsistency of the open borders position has persisted since their initial premises were never fully overturned in their minds.  The purpose of the following is to identify these significant issues, analyze them in a proper integrated context, and expose an even deeper philosophical problem that I see within this community that causes such debates to fester as long as they have.


6. The Founding Fathers on Immigration: Further Arguments Against "Open-Borders" (4/9/2018)

Immigration and the American Founding, a paper written by Dr. Kevin Portteus, is an excellent analysis of some of the moral, legal, and practical issues related to immigration originally considered by America's Founding Fathers, and, in my opinion, serves as a necessary complement to my recent posts on immigration in a free society.

Takeaway from the Peterson Interview: The Anti-Conceptual Left

James Delingpole of Breitbart writes:
If you loathe the cant, self-righteousness, and stupidity of the regressive left, then you’ll love this train wreck of an interview. It’s the most satisfying piece of poetic justice since the Comet came unstuck in that tunnel in Atlas Shrugged.
I couldn't agree more.  This interview is truly a work of art, and while one could probably write a treatise analyzing it, one important takeaway, which I blogged about recently, is the phenomenon of the conceptual versus the anti-conceptual mind. 

For example, in questioning Peterson about the so-called gender pay gap, Newman asks if this gap indicates that women are being "dominated and excluded by men," a standard charge of left-wing feminists.  Peterson immediately answers the question by seeking to understand the observable fact to which she is referring.  He cites multivariate analysis which indicates that it doesn't exist in the simple way that Newman presents it.  He explains that when you break down the causes (the reasons) why gaps exist, there are demonstrable factors that explain it that also show that gender is a small factor.  While being constantly interrupted, he says:
If you are any social scientist worth your salt, you never do a univariate analysis.  If there is a pay gap, we break it down by age,  by occupation, by interest, by personality...There are multiple reasons...the claim that the wage gap between men and women is only due to sex is wrong, and it is wrong, and there is no doubt about this.  
Newman demonstrates her anti-conceptual mentality by refusing to grasp the method that Peterson follows.  Essentially, she continually ignores or evades his reasoning, mindlessly attaching herself to one word or fragment of his statement which she then tangentially relates to some PC cliche. At one point, while Peterson attempts to elucidate the primary causes, which have nothing to do with gender bias, she flat out says,"I'm not saying why it [the wage gap] exists, but it exists."
Peterson: "But you have to say why it exists."
Newman: "But do you agree that is not fair?"  
Peterson: "It depends on why it is happening."  
This is a recurring theme.  Peterson tries to explain the causes of an observable fact before jumping to any conclusions or evaluating the morality of those causes, while she wishes to take the fact alone as prima facie evidence of her own preconceived judgment: "There is a pay gap, therefore men are oppressing women."

In a previous post, I observed that this anti-conceptual method is endemic to the left and accounts for most of their own political positions.
They apply this approach to every issue. Someone doesn't have health care insurance? No need to look at why a particular individual doesn't have insurance - no need to study how current policy has affected the marketplace and made it more expensive or lower quality - no need to look at the unintended consequences of any new policy. The fact is that "someone doesn't have health care so we ("we" meaning someone else besides them) must provide it (by force if necessary, and it's always necessary)." Someone doesn't have a house - "give them housing!" Someone doesn't make enough money - "raise the wage!" Someone used a gun to murder - "ban the gun!" Someone drove a car into pedestrians - "ban the ....oh, even we're not that stupid" - next thing!...
Why is this?  To the left, seeking causes is irrelevant because causes are preordained in their Marxist perspective.  These days, that means people are determined by their class, gender, and ethnicity.  Every political issue is only about brute power - the haves vs the have-nots, the oppressors vs the oppressed. They don't want to hear about multivariate analysis or principles of morality or government.  In fact, they regard that kind of thinking (human reason) as itself emanating from white male privilege. Consequently, the leftist mind is stunted at birth as it were, leaving its zombie disciples in a position not to have a reasoned discussion nor to debate in the pursuit of truth (causes), but only to harangue and attack dissenters. What's important to the left is the intention of the individual. Since they know already why some injustice exists (the patriarchy, capitalism, racism, etc.), simply believing in doing something, anything (activism) that involves legislation X, or law Y, or regulation Z is paramount. The specifics, the relationship to rights, and the unintended consequences be damned.

This interview demonstrates a frightening trend.  When reason breaks down as a method of persuasion, we do not need multivariate analysis to tell us what happens next.  

Thursday, December 14, 2017

How Should Objectivists and Libertarians Select Political Candidates?

In the wake of the Moore and Trump candidacies, it's clear that very few issues generate more debate in objectivist and libertarian circles than the question of which political candidates to back.  For example, in a recent post, I vehemently disagreed with Onkar Ghate's approach to analyzing Trump.  Also, during the Alabama senate campaign, evidence emerged that Roy Moore may be a pervert at best, or a sexual predator at worst. And, although these charges were not proven in a court of law, the question remained - how should a voter weigh such concerns? In general, what is the appropriate way for voters to evaluate the (often horrible) real world choices of political candidates in a mixed economy?  Perhaps more importantly, what is the wrong method for evaluating candidates which, in turn, becomes the basis for maligning or attacking opponents?

Someone once asked how I would feel about voting for a gangster.  My answer was this question cannot be answered out of context.  What if all the candidates are gangsters and there are no other choices?  What is the current form of government - will their power be somewhat limited by checks and balances, and what are the major issues, if any, on which they will be voting?  Are they in charge of the dog catchers or the U.S. armed forces?  Will they be tasked with making appointments to other federal agencies or are they just sitting on a limited city council?  What if the political position does give the power to regulate the market, and Gangster X is known to take money from a free market group while Gangster Y takes money from communists and the only major issue during their term is regulating the market?  What if the position is that of a figurehead, and Gangster X is a Don Corleone-ish family man who really cares about the future of the community (despite the hypocrisy) and projects a positive and benevolent spirit, while Gangster Y is a psychopathic nihilist who projects disdain and contempt for human life?  How long is the appointment - is it a one year position or a lifetime appointment?  If, for example, this position carries an enormous amount of power and is a lifetime appointment, a la Chavez or Castro, then we should be talking about armed rebellion - not voting!

In other words, the full context must be taken into consideration when voting.  That context involves myriad factors and can require a fairly detailed understanding of the various factors involved as it relates to your own self-interest, including the history of the candidates, recent political history, the nature of the current government, the major issues at stake, the term of the appointment, and so on. 

It would be a grave mistake to simply declare, "Gangster X is a gangster," then proceed to dissect the implicit philosophy of an abstract conceptual gangster (irrational, dishonest, violent, etc.) and subsequently deduce that any decisions emanating from a particular gangster (because all gangsters are irrational, dishonest, violent, etc.) must be bad. This latter approach is a textbook case of rationalism.  It represents an attempt to obtain knowledge through deduction from concepts in your head rather than from facts.  On the other hand, dismissing this larger context, and concluding, without qualification, that Gangster X is an all-around great guy that is impervious to error, just because you heard him give a nice speech or observed him doing a few good things, would also be an error - albeit, an instance of empiricism.

Let's go back to the example where the only choice is Gangster X or Y.  Let's throw in that X is known to be a womanizer while Y lives in a basement and rarely interacts with people outside his caporegimes.   Also, X is overtly religious and wants to appease Muslims due to his mushy Christian altruism, but he hates communism. Y is an atheist who takes a stand against Muslim terrorism - although a lot of that actually emanates from his psychotic love of death and war.  Say the position is a two year position, and there will be many votes pertaining mostly to regulating the economy including health care, the Internet, and the energy industry - but they will have little power over anything else including foreign policy and our relations to Islamic radicals.  Gangster X takes money from a free market PAC while Gangster Y takes money from George Soros. Gangster X has said he believes in a mostly free market approach while Gangster Y wants a full government takeover.  Also, X's son and nephew head an energy concern and hate environmentalists.

Now, does Gangster X really believe in free markets?  Probably not - he is just taking money from free market people who tell him what to say, he hates communism but for non-objective religious reasons, and he wants to benefit his relatives.  Is he a good guy?  No - he spent his life as a womanizing criminal despite his somewhat hypocritical public posture.  Is he a religious fanatic?  Yes, but it is not that relevant to how he is likely to vote on the issues before him and he has no other power to impose his religion on others given his limited power and the other branches.  Could he be bought by the socialists if they pay him more?  Maybe, but we know for sure that Y is already taking money from socialists. Also, we may hate X's tendency to appease terrorists, but he will have little or nothing to do with those policies, so who cares?  Finally, given the nature of the two year term, it is likely there will be better candidates, but if Y gets a foothold, and given the nature of statism and the current political framework, he can use his regulatory power to further his ambitions by shaking down industries to enhance his power and fill his campaign war chest while spreading corruption.  If this is all we know, we have a better shot of freedom enhancing outcomes with Gangster X, over the next two years, given this context.

Would it serve our interests to just surrender to Gangster Y and his followers, who are also bad people but vote against us every time?  Isn't it likely that once entrenched, Gangster Y and his socialist followers, with growing power over regulating the economy while shaking down businessmen, could wreak havoc on the economy for many years to come?   Even if you want to make an argument, that letting Gangster Y win will somehow serve your interests in the long run - for example, maybe you argue that the carnage from his statist policies will expose socialism as a horrible system (as if we didn't know) - you still would need to take into account this full context.  You cannot simply rule either out because they are a gangster or because they are a religious fanatic.  

If you want to advocate a position, you need to integrate political philosophy with political facts.  We would love to have a bunch of George Washington's, who are principled in both theory and action, overseeing a constitutionally limited republic, and we should advocate the principles that hopefully will result in more George Washington's in the long run, but even if this were possible, you always have to advocate for politicians within a context.  Washington was wrong about many things too, as were the other Founding Fathers.

In general, we should never judge a candidate in a moral vacuum as if we are judging his candidacy for heaven.  Ayn Rand, in her essay, How to Judge a Political Candidate, said:
One cannot expect, nor is it necessary, to agree with a candidate’s total philosophy — only with his political philosophy (and only in terms of essentials). It is not a Philosopher-King that we are electing, but an executive for a specific, delimited job. It is only political consistency that we can demand of him; if he advocates the right political principles for the wrong metaphysical reasons, the contradiction is his problem, not ours. [emphasis mine]
With respect to a presidential election, I would submit the following as a partial list of relevant factors to consider: What will the likely issues be over his term?  Is the economy collapsing, are there serious foreign threats emerging, is political correctness threatening civil liberties?  Will there be multiple supreme court vacancies?  Since an executive is different than an intellectual, does he have the temperament to be a leader in a fast moving high stakes environment?  Will he pick good people to advise him and will he listen and communicate effectively with subordinates?  What is his history?  Who does he take money from?  Where are his real interests financially? Does he need money or already rich? Who are his close advisers?  Who is he likely to bring into the administration to head cabinet agencies? What types of people will he put on the supreme court or in the federal judiciary?  What kind of people will he pick to head the military and intelligence services which speaks to both foreign policy and civil liberties.  Who are his relatives and close friends?  Who helped him in politics?  Is he a cheerleader for good ideas even if he doesn't or can't implement them (like Reagan was)?  Does he have a good spirit when advocating for America overseas, i..e, what message does he send to the world about America and American interests?  Does he provoke fear in our enemies or does he project weakness and appeasement (like Obama did)?

As a great example, recall Ayn Rand's consideration of the Nixon candidacy (The Ayn Rand Letter, “The American Spirit,” page 136).  Despite Nixon's flaws (which could be analyzed out-of-context), she weighed the importance of his supreme court picks which would outlive his presidency - a totally rational and pertinent factor:
We may hope that Nixon might gain time for the nation, by granting some relief (i.e., removing a few chains) to the private sector of the economy and by arresting the growth of the public sector. But, in view of his record, we cannot be certain. There is, however, one promise of his 1968 campaign – perhaps, the most important one – which he has kept: the appointment to the Supreme Court of men who respect the Constitution. It is still too early to tell the exact nature of these men’s views and the direction they will choose to take. But if they live up to their enormous responsibility, we may forgive Mr. Nixon a great many of his defaults: the Supreme Court is the last remnant of a philosophical influence in this country.
In closing, I will add that an integrated approach to a significant election requires knowing a lot about politics (political facts) and political philosophy.  Books and essays are written about political figures, giving inside accounts that speak to temperament, their past political affiliations, recent political history and many of the factors cited above.  Given this complexity, even following a rational, integrated method is difficult and fraught with the potential for honest errors and mistakes - while open to debate among reasonable people. However, engaging in purely rationalistic or empirical arm-chair arguments for politicians is a much bigger and more insidious problem that should be understood and avoided.     

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Is There a Right to Immigrate?

In the wake of a recent post I wrote on immigration, an argument that keeps arising is the claim that "immigrants have a right to immigrate."  This assertion takes different forms such as, "a border is just a line (man)," or "everyone has the same rights, how can you deny them the same rights you have?" and so on.  I touched on this argument again in another immigration post, but I want to make a more direct argument opposing the premise of this claim.    

The whole basis of the "right to immigrate" argument starts with a kind of out-of-context, rationalistic, assertion of individual rights from which proponents proceed to deduce conclusions. The proper way to deal with this question is inductively, i.e., start with the facts that give rise to individual rights in the first place so we can see how to apply the concept in practical situations.   

While I take as a given that individuals possess natural rights, by virtue of being human, the fact is that individuals must take specific actions in order to protect those rights in a social context.  Rights are not respected out of thin air.  There is not an ethereal entity that emerges from the universe to protect our rights.  There needs to be an actual means or vehicle through which we attempt to protect, as best as possible, the natural rights to which we are entitled.  

When a group of property owners and individuals agree to form a government to protect each other's rights and provide for the common defense, they create a sovereign "nation" by virtue of that agreement.  That government is granted certain enumerated powers, and that particular government, in effect, is created by and for those particular people, its citizens.  That particular government can take many different forms but, in essence, it is the framework by which those people choose to protect their natural rights. [editors note: originally, this post likened the government, in this context, to a home owner's association.  Later I point out how that analogy fails and therefore, I have edited it out as it unnecessarily distracted from my primary claim.]    

Those people and their government are a sovereign nation.  They elect and grant power to the government to represent them in dealing with foreign nations or foreign nationals.  The reason they do this is to protect themselves from threats and deal with affairs of state that affect the group collectively.  The threats and issues stemming from foreign relations can take different forms and a foreign policy must be defined, and laws implemented, to fairly and objectively deal with foreigners while respecting the rights of its own citizens.  

Note the flow here.  It starts with property owners and citizens seeking to protect their rights by forming a government within their lands.  The people, through their government, then look out at the world and say "how do we deal with the rest of the world beneficially, while protecting the rights of our citizenry?" It does not start with the claim that "everyone has rights" and proceed to the conclusion that "anyone at anytime can come into any sovereign nation irrespective of the laws and policies of that nation because rights."

A sovereign nation is comprised of the private property owners and individuals that elected and fund that government within that border.  The relationship of the foreign national to a sovereign nation is analogous to the relationship of random citizen to a private property owner.  In the case of a private property owner, he can determine who comes onto his property and with whom he may trade or cooperate.  But, just because someone rings his doorbell, it does not mean he must grant him entry.  

In similar fashion, the government is elected to act as the gatekeeper at the nation's private property door.  However, complications arise, because the government represents a group (the country), not a single individual, and therefore must represent the interests and protect the rights of all the citizens of the sovereign nation in determining who can enter.  Since the government represents everyone, its actions must be based on objective policy and law.     

For example, if one private property owner wishes to trade with foreigners or wishes to bring foreigners into the country, can he do so without the implicit or explicit consent of the rest of the country?  This is exactly why foreign policy and immigration policy is necessary.  It is designed to deal with exactly these situations, and it is why it is a necessary function of the government in its capacity to provide for a common defense.        

In a detail prior post, I covered, in some detail, the types of issues and the types of threats that would be of concern under such a policy.  There I define "threat" in the foreign policy context, and stress the necessity to identify such threats contextually.  For example, should the government prevent a private company from selling military technology or weapons to North Korea or Iran (maybe in the future, these countries will be allies and that is fine)?  Can a private property owner bring in individuals who carry a deadly virus?  Can a private property owner bring in and house thousands of communists who wish to overthrow the government? Could a private property owner who owns ocean frontage allow an enemy nation to dock its nuclear submarine fleet and board its military personnel? Can private property owners transact with nations under embargo?  Can a private property owner bring in ten million destitute Muslim migrants because he feels sorry for them?  

Consider other questions related to the rights of immigrants.  If it's true that we must protect the rights of foreign nationals outside the country (before they are granted residency or citizenship), should we grant those same rights to foreign nationals before launching an attack on an enemy country? Would we interview each foreign national and grant them a jury trial and the various constitutional protections specified by the Bill of Rights before the attack? If you say, "war is different" then you are supporting my argument - foreign policy and the relationship of our nation to foreign nations is a different legal context. The policies by which our country deals with foreign nationals is and should be reasonable and a matter of law (not fiat), but the concept of natural rights does not impose an obligation or duty on the citizens of a nation to extend its own government's jurisdiction to anyone who asks for any reason.    

In the linked post, I make the case that the burden of proof falls on the immigrant or visitor, or his sponsors, to prove they are not a threat or will not impose obligations on others.  If that immigration criteria (developed by the elected representatives of the people) is met, i.e., they are found to not represent a threat under the policy, then it is reasonable for someone to immigrate or visit.  After all, to deny a citizen within the country who seeks to peacefully deal with a non-threatening foreign national, could be considered a violation of that citizen's rights (he would rightly ask, "why would you all stop me from trading or marrying this nice person who I can prove is a great person and no threat to you?").  But, note, any right's violation is considered from the perspective of the citizen, not from the perspective of any right to immigrate.  

Of course, if this policy is appropriate in a more free market context, how much more important is immigration policy today, where we do have a massive welfare state, where democratic elections can be dramatically affected by immigrant voters who skew left, and where myriad threats from overseas endanger our country?  Again, the facts and context drive the state's policy which exists to protect the rights of its own people.