May 17, 2014, 8:29 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Congratulations on an improtant millstone.

Question time – open borders
May 16, 2014, 9:43 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

This time it was Bryan Caplan’s turn to play Smart Person by asking Mark Krikorian some Questions. Do you want to know my answers to those questions? Well regardless (and despite the redundancy, since my answers are broadly similar to Krikorian’s) here they are:

How much would open borders have to raise living standards before you’d reconsider? Doubling GDP clearly doesn’t impress you. What about tripling? A ten-fold increase?

No one can prove, even in principle, a proposition such as ‘open borders will raise living standards by X’ as a sort of Law Of Physics, so let’s take that off the table right now; if that’s the premise of the question I reject it outright. Also, merely ‘raising living standards’ is too aggregate and vague for my taste; whose living standards? I reserve the right to care about micro details of what happens, not merely macro or on average. Finally, ‘living standards’ isn’t even the only relevant metric.

In the end we all form a view regarding what the likely effects of open borders – or any other nontrivial policy – would be, based on knowledge and data but also based on our economic and other intuition, our priors, our experience, and so forth. We then measure that against our preferences. Viewed in this light Caplan is essentially asking ‘if you thought open borders would be beneficial would you think open borders beneficial?’ Sure! But in the event, evidently, taking everything into account, I don’t find open borders to be desirable. If I did, then I would, but I don’t, so I don’t. Sorry, what is Caplan even asking?

Suppose the U.S. had a lot more patriotic solidarity. In what specific ways would it be better to live here?

There would, I have to think, be more good fellow-feeling amongst the people one encounters day to day. There would be less insularity and distrust. That’d be pleasant, I think.

I also venture that there would be less of the cheating, angling, trickery, corruption, rent-seeking, etc etc that IMHO is pervasive in modern life. I mean, if there really is a lot more solidarity. Right? We hear a lot about ‘high-trust societies’ (and they are usually quite homogeneous). Although it isn’t mentioned as much, this presumably goes hand in hand with high-trustworthiness societies. It is not the dumbest thing in the world to think that ‘patriotic solidarity’ would nudge things in that direction, and that that would be nice.

Aren’t there any practical ways you could unilaterally adopt to realize their benefits? Are you using them?

Krikorian didn’t understand this question but I do; Caplan links to his ‘bubble’ post. So I interpret him to be asking this: whatever good effects I think might stem from ‘patriotic solidarity’, can’t I just ‘unilaterally’ create them on my own?

I think the answer is a resounding no. I can’t ‘unilaterally’ make other people act more pleasantly. I can’t ‘unilaterally’ get others to stop trying to rip me off. I could metaphorically (or literally) build a moat and fortress around myself and mine in various ways – and people do – but that’s very expensive (so I perceive it as a cost/tax), and doesn’t really achieve the state of ‘patriotic solidarity’ anyway.

These are weird questions. Suffice to say that ‘patriotic solidarity’ as such isn’t my main reason for being an immigration-trimmer, but I guess there was a context for Caplan raising these points. In any event, they aren’t good ones.

Do you really think low-immigration parts of the U.S. are nicer places to live? If so, why aren’t more natives going there? Why don’t you?

Some are some aren’t. It’s not a single-dimensional issue. It’s also not a simple matter of evaluating or going to ‘places’ that are ‘low-immigration’ in some aggregate sense.

In fact, I would say that generally natives do try to go where immigrants aren’t, whether or not they live in a place that is ‘low-immigration’ overall. Ever hear of ‘white flight’? I presume Caplan is thinking of places with a lot of immigrants somewhere kinda nearby – you know, so that they can commute in to be ‘workers’ to aid him and his in his daily life – but that’s not quite the same thing.

New York for example may have a lot of immigrants but fancy rich people will pay up to live cloistered away from them – even if that only means a couple dozen blocks away. Or look at a racial map of the DC metro area sometime; it’s a pie chart. Both of those places are ‘high immigration’ but the natives are expressing clear revealed-preferences regarding proximity to immigrants (among other groups), and no, Bryan, that revealed preference is clearly not indifference.

Doesn’t patriotic solidarity often lead people to unify around bad ideas? Think about the Vietnam War or Iraq War II. If so, why are you so confident that we need more patriotic solidarity rather than less?

I guess a thing can lead to unifying around bad ideas sure. I have quibbles with the examples he gives but it’s not worth going into. Again, I am not a non-open-borderser primarily because of a desire to engineer an increase in ‘patriotic solidarity’ so the question doesn’t really apply to me.

I’m sincerely puzzled. How exactly is discriminating against blacks worse than discriminating against foreigners?

Krikorian’s answer is fine.

Suppose you were debating a white nationalist who said, “I agree completely with [you], except I value racial solidarity rather than patriotic solidarity.” What would you say to change his mind? Would you consider him evil if he didn’t?

I’m not sure why I’d be ‘debating’ with him. I don’t really care what he thinks. Why do I have to ‘change his mind’? Maybe I’d just walk away. Or if I stayed, maybe I’d be listening to his thoughts out of sheer curiosity without feeling any sort of obligation or pressure to ‘debate’ them.

If I were really heart-set on changing his mind, I guess I’d make the argument to him that pitching (white, Caplan presumably means) ‘racial solidarity’ is a loser’s game and a lost cause and not really even likely to achieve whatever goals he has. What does this have to do with anything? The idea is that non-open borders is equivalent to white supremacy? Sorry, it’s just that it can be hard to follow when an open-borderers goes Full Lefty like this.

Suppose you can either save one American or x foreigners. How big does x have to be before you save the foreigners?

There’s no mathematical critical-threshold x that I could define and state here and it would be stupid if someone did state such a thing. Like a human, I’d take this sort of thing on a case by case basis.

In what sense is letting an American employer hire a foreigner is an act of charity?

It’s not. As I’ve stated many times,

(a) I’d ‘let’ American employers hire foreigners or anyone else, I don’t care; and
(b) doing that by itself does not ‘open the borders’ so it’s silly to include it in an open-borders pitch.

I know I keep saying that over and over, which is a little silly in its own right and accomplishes little besides scaring readers away, but I promise it’s only because Bryan Caplan doesn’t understand it yet. He literally doesn’t understand the substantive difference in what is taking place between letting an employer hire someone and letting a guy cross the border. I’ve pointed it out to him. He’s read the words where I pointed it out to him. And they didn’t register, because he’s ‘not a lawyer’.

Suppose the U.S. decided to increase patriotic solidarity by refusing to admit Americans’ foreign spouses: “Americans should marry other Americans.” Would that be wrong?

If that were the policy beforehand and it were known by all then there really wouldn’t be a lot of situations involving someone getting married (elsewhere, it would have to be, logically speaking) and then trying to bring their spouse to America only to have America ‘refuse to admit’ them. Instead the status quo legal situation would be that marrying someone in a foreign country wouldn’t confer on that person the automatic right to immigrate to America. Everyone would know that. And thus they probably wouldn’t court or get married to foreigners, or if they did, they’d do so with no expectation of being able to return to America with their spouse, rather, they’d do so with the intent to stay in the country in question.

That may or may not be a wise or desirable outcome but I have a hard time seeing such a counterfactual as some kind of grave ‘wrong’ to get all worked up over. It seems like a highly relevant question only because, as I promise you I am fully aware, Americans marrying foreign spouses happens a not-insignificant amount of time, but if the legal landscape were as Caplan posits then I guess it wouldn’t be so much, so it kinda wouldn’t come up. *shrug*

This is a good example though because it illustrates that whether to allow this or that person to immigrate is nothing but a practical question on which there can be reasonable disagreement, discussion, etc. ‘Rights’ do not belong in the discussion and you will search for them in vain in my above answer to his question. That’s because it would be ridiculous to insist that a foreign person upon saying ‘I do’ to an American suddenly and magically gained the natural inalienable human ‘right’ to resettle within the United States. That’s not how it works and it’s not on the table. It’s a thing we decide, just as with all immigration allowances.

This has been another…QUESTION TIME

Question time – climate change
May 16, 2014, 1:15 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

When a Smart Person is talking to a non-Smart Person, he loves to line up an enumerated list of ‘Questions’ for that person. Devastating questions. In answering them the non-Smart Person will inevitably reveal how much of a neanderthal he is somewhere.

Let me demonstrate by tackling some Questions recently asked of Bryan Caplan by (some guy who wrote a cartoon book) regarding Climate Change.

Are you comfortable saying that carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas?

Um, sure? ‘Greenhouse gas’ is a category of thing with a definition. Carbon dioxide meets that definition. Duh. This is like asking am I comfortable saying that 2 is an even number. There is not real debate about this.

That human emissions of carbon dioxide are raising atmospheric CO2 concentrations?

I guess; if humans emit X CO2’s then at least in short-term there are X CO2’s that weren’t there before. Though there could ultimately be feedback effects, which I don’t trust anyone to have modeled well. (For example more CO2 -> more trees -> less CO2, so it’s a wash? I dunno. Nor do you.)

Perhaps the real implied question is, if one goes back to (say) 1850 and spawns a parallel universe in which one instantly and without pollution kills all the humans, then runs the clock forward to today, is there more CO2 in our universe than in that parallel universe’s 2014? In that case, my even-money bet would be ‘yes’. But I don’t feel hugely strongly about that. I also don’t care or think it is germane to much of anything.

That global temperatures have been increasing over the past century?

So they say. I haven’t been measuring. I have seen measurements that seem fine and show warming from the late 1800s to ~2000. It seems to have paused in the last decade or two though.

Climates change. Did you know there have been “Ice Ages”?

That humans are partly responsible for those increasing global temperatures?

I doubt it, unless ‘partly’ is defined so expansively as to mean ‘causing an epsilon temperature increase, with probability epsilon, for some epsilon>0′.

Again it would be convenient to check that parallel universe, but absent that, all we have are computer models to inform our answer to this question. I don’t trust the output of those computer models to have the resolution or accuracy enabling them to establish a hypothesized Human Responsibility Factor as being measurably, statistically-significantly different from 0. Does the cartoonist? If so, why, exactly?

That “it is extremely likely that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century”?

‘The’ dominant? No, I do not think this extremely likely. I think it is one of the possibilities, sure.

By the way, none of the above questions matter one iota regarding what forward-looking climate change policy ought, or ought not, to be.

Thanks everyone, this has been: QUESTION TIME

May 14, 2014, 7:37 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Mortgages Should Be Easier to Get

Right. Of course. Pointing government policy toward making mortgages easier to get has always worked out pretty well for us before.

The duty to coordinate
May 13, 2014, 9:14 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

Florida Couple Fined $746 For Crime Of Feeding Homeless People

The police chief helpfully explains:

“If you want to feed people, and you want to do a good, Christian act, we encourage you to coordinate with the social service agencies.”

Makes sense. How/why could someone do a good, Christian act without ‘coordinating with ‘the social service agencies’? Why would this even be allowed?

In any fascism, there can be no religion outside of the state.

I, too, am an immigration ‘trimmer’
May 13, 2014, 7:19 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Immigration, Yes — and No

Good, balanced piece by Gene Callahan. (h/t Danny Kenny)

Not just hands
May 12, 2014, 8:10 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

David Henderson, probably my favorite EconLog blogger, comments on a recent open-borders debate in which Mark Krikorian apparently made this important point:

The second [point Krikorian makes], which goes from about 19:00 to 20:30, is that immigrants aren’t just hands, that is, not just workers, but are also people.


Unfortunately, the full meaning and import of this comment seems to have been lost even on Henderson, who misses the point by only replying:

Krikorian seems to be making this as a criticism of immigration and I don’t get it. I find the fact that they’re people a positive on net, not a negative.

Let me just say that I’m right there with Henderson in this sense: ‘the fact that they’re people’ isn’t helpful as a uniform criticism of all immigration. (Who was criticizing ‘immmigration’?) It’s just part of a criticism of open borders. That is because, however much one may think ‘people are a positive on net’ (and I suppose even I do, misanthrophic hater that I supposedly am!), there are still – undeniably – a nonzero number of people who would not be. Hence, I reserve the right to think some people more ‘net-positive’ than others – as indeed we all do, in any number of the daily associations that we form, or don’t, as the case may be.

‘People are a positive on net’ then is just not helpful as an argument for open borders, not unless whether/to what extent to allow immigration is somehow an all-or-nothing proposition. But says who? Why do we have to do this calculation only ‘on net’? The excluded middle being assumed away, allowing only some immigrants – i.e., having a restrictionist immigration policy – is precisely the proposition under discussion and which Henderson purports to be arguing against. This means that taken as a counter to restrictionist arguments, his comment begs the question.

In fact, I can perfectly well agree with David Henderson that immigrants are a net-positive but still favor restrictionist policies; in part that would be because not all of them are (as Henderson himself would presumably agree). Going back to the ‘hands’ vs. ‘people’ point, I think a problem I have with Caplanite ‘immigrants=workers’ type constructions is that they, seemingly intentionally, either paper over or declare out-of-bounds the very dimensions along which increased immigration would fail cost-benefit analysis. And I suppose that was Krikorian’s point, though of course I can’t be sure, given that as usual I’m blogging this off-the-cuff without actual reference to the source material I’m supposedly commenting on.


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