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Friday, March 16, 2018

Why Objectivists Really Disagree on Immigration, Part 2


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.


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.