A philosophy professor responds to…me (?) on open borders
February 19, 2013 40 Comments
Read the post there. I’ll try to respond here, but as there’s a lot (and I’ve already pretty much said my piece on this subject) I may have to descend into Fiskery here and there.
First much of his time is taken up on the following question: does the government have a first, or primary duty to its own citizens. I join Steve Sailer in saying yes, for essentially the same reasons; I will even quote the same ‘ourselves and our posterity’ phrase from the Constitution from time to time. I have no originality whatsoever in this regard. Meanwhile, I don’t see the professor making a real argument otherwise (if that’s what he thinks); if the state doesn’t have a primary duty to its citizens, by what right does anyone connected with ‘the state’ wield any power or authority whatsoever, to allow or disallow immigration or anything else? I’d be interested to hear his thoughts on that subject; but they aren’t shared there.
I must have summarized this viewpoint by using the phrase ‘social contract’ at some point because the professor then debunks the (my?) idea that we have a literal social contract, and related issues surrounding the concept of one:
I know of no living person who works on political authority and thinks that we actually have a valid social contract.
Let the record show that, although I don’t ‘work on political authority’, I don’t think we ‘actually have a valid social contract’ either. Alas. The question is how we feel about that fact and whether it, however imperfect and unattained in practice, is nevertheless a thing to be desired or aimed for, to guide our (and more importantly our government’s) actions and principles. I’ll just add here that whether/how closely the ‘social contract’ concept hews to the legal notion of a contract – something the professor spends a bit too much time discussing – is a sideshow in that regard. Just call it a metaphor if that helps, who cares; the point remains.
Next the professor argues against a straw-man: that immigration restrictionists think the social contract “requires the government to promote our interests, in general, in any manner it can think of”. ‘Any manner’? No, just in manners that are part of its delegated powers in the Constitution. Right? Surely the ‘social contract’ people have a huge overlap with the ‘limited powers’ people; more troublingly, surely the professor knows this. So where does he get ‘any manner’? Possibly because there is essentially no disputing whatsoever the fact that a sovereign government, if it has any powers whatsoever, is within them in enforcing its own border.
More straw-men come:
How could this lead to the conclusion that the social contract requires the government to restrict immigration?
‘Requires the government to restrict’? How did we get here? Let’s try to keep in mind the context of this debate: one side (the open-borders faction) is asserting that the government may not restrict immigration. The contrapositive of ‘may not restrict’ is not ‘required to restrict’. This straw-man masks the fact that it is the open-borders faction which is arguing the stronger claim. All that’s required in response is to establish that a government may legitimately restrict immigration – not that it ‘must’!
The economic discussion is light and not really even to the point as far as I’m concerned (unlike perhaps(?) Sailer, I don’t think I’m a restrictionist primarily as a protectionist measure for the jobs of low-income domestic workers), but let me just note this:
Furthermore, of course, consumers benefit from lower prices as a result of businesses’ ability to hire inexpensive immigrant labor.
Shouldn’t it be noted and addressed here that what he is describing as, somehow inherently and categorically, ‘inexpensive immigrant labor’ is really black-market and what-would-have-been-called-in-less-polite-times-’wetback’ labor? There’s nothing inherently ‘inexpensive’ about legal immigrants, is there? Are we really supposed to think of the canonical ‘inexpensive immigrant’ who is ‘benefitting consumers’ so much as an IIT-trained engineer from India designing computer chips? No, there would be no such material ‘benefit’ to domestic consumers from pulling in a bunch of legal immigrants with similar/equivalent skills and training to perform labor at more or less the same wages (less, what, ~3%?), and for the record, I’d have basically no problem with virtually-unlimited import of Indian engineers from IIT in the first place. No: in practice, this ‘benefit’ he wants us to count on (permanently?) for our embrace of unrestricted immigration comes almost entirely from the fact that the category ‘immigrant labor’ is dominated by less-educated black-market workers who, due to their legal status, can often be exploited by paying them less than the minimum wage, with fewer benefits/protections, and so on.
Now, it’s okay that the professor doesn’t mention or address this. What’s more problematic to his case however is this: to the extent that his argument relies on the assertion that consumers benefit from (inherently? intrinsically? perpetually?) inexpensive immigrant labor, does this mean that immigration is only a good idea as long as and to the extent that we make sure a decent proportion of them are second-class citizens for whom most of our labor laws de facto don’t apply?
Finally there’s yet another straw-man, the idea that restrictionists must think that a government’s duty to its citizenry ‘cancels’ or ‘negates’ its duty not to violate the rights of non-citizens:
…even if we believe there are such duties, do not negate the rights of non-citizens, nor do they mean that the state may abuse foreigners to its heart’s content as long as doing so serves the interests of citizens.
Oh my. Now I’m arguing that my government may ‘abuse foreigners to its heart’s content’ am I! No wonder I also resist the idea that the Earth is round and that we came from monkeys! Non-professors like me are such cretins.
Let’s just note that in this ridiculous construction, not allowing someone to permanently relocate to the United States has been equated with abusing them to one’s heart’s content. Is this a real argument? I don’t think so. Even if the intended point here were stated in a more sober and less straw-manny way, the problem is that there is simply no Universal Human Right To Immigrate To The United States Of America. Such a thing is, if anything, even more problematic and mythical than the concept of a literal ‘social contract’. But if the professor nevertheless thinks there is such a Universal Human Right, where did it come from? Why didn’t he include his actual argument for its existence in that (already very long) piece?