Bryan Caplan: not quite as unlawyerly as he claims to be

Bryan Caplan says he argues in totally awesome ways and does not use dishonest ‘lawyerly’ argument methods. If you doubt him, just ask him, he’ll tell you how great is the way that he argues:

Can I honestly say I’m any less lawyerly? Yea. I’m happy to admit that the evidence on the immigration-welfare state connection is mixed. I’m happy to point out [...etc...] Why? Because I think my opening statement is true. Getting people to the right conclusion for the wrong reasons is not good enough for me

That’s interesting because there is one recurrent feature of the arguments of Bryan Caplan for open borders which is most certainly, definitely, undeniably, a wrong reason. It is the notion that these two groups of people coincide:

1. People who immigrate (legally or illegally) to the United States, or seek to

2. People not in the United States who have in hand a job offer from someone within the United States, the performance of which would require relocating to the United States

Bryan Caplan (and indeed most open-bordersers) bases a good portion of his open-borders arguments on the notion that Group 1 and Group 2 are identical. He argues in such a way as to imply that if you concede that it’s not right to prevent a person from Group 2 from entering the United States (‘Let Anyone Take A Job Anywhere’), you must therefore conclude you shouldn’t prevent any person from Group 1 from entering the United States either (‘Open Borders’). I could point to post after post where he does this.

And it is wrong. Right? I mean, I’m no genius, but I have a brain. I can employ logic. I can see that Group 1 and Group 2 are not identical. Thus if I took Caplan’s argument to heart (Hey! I should let anyone take a job anywhere!), and then based on that concluded that there should be open borders, I would indeed have gotten to the ‘right’ conclusion, by his lights, for a reason that is certainly and undeniably the wrong reason.

Unless he wants to dispute this, I will also hazard to say that Bryan Caplan too has a brain and can employ logic. Therefore I presume that he, too, knows that Group 1 and Group 2 are not identical. Yet he persists in using arguments which fundamentally pretend that they are. He’s happy to do it. I’d say he’s even proud of his ‘Let Anyone Take A Job Anywhere’ construction. Why? Because he thinks it will get people to the right conclusion, even though it’d be a ‘wrong reason’.

Can anyone honestly say that anything I have said above is wrong? Is the immigration=job offer equation not a ‘lawyerly’ construction on the part of open-bordersers? Is it not an attempt on his part to Get People To The Right Conclusion For The Wrong Reasons? Yes indeed it is. And Caplan knows it. And I have told him. And he is aware that I have told him.

But he still does it. Why doesn’t he knock it off?

Corrective glossary

Political and media terminology can be confusing, and I think it’s because no one knows how to talk words good no more. If you listen closely, people actually use words entirely wrong. (Or is it ‘wrongly’?)

Here then, to help cut through the smoke, is a corrective glossary to help you follow the hot topics of the day:

base (i.e., of a political party): the group of people who might or might not vote; they’re not that inspired and on the fence about it, so they constantly need to be actively courted and appealed to

climate denier: someone who, while fully aware and will readily admit that the climate exists, meanwhile has the (on the face of it unrelated) property of not preferring left-wing policies of redistribution, strict regulation, and centrally-planned economics

racist: someone who doesn’t want government policies to be racist

health care: any arrangement with a corporation in which you send money to them monthly and they sent you a brochure at the beginning, but may or may not pay you anything in return; e.g. “With Obamacare at least I have health care”

healthcare: the preferred way of saying ‘health care’ even though it is not actually a word, it is two words squeezed together for no apparentreason

healthcare (alt.): birth-control pills and/or rubbers

allies: others who do not want you to do a thing and do not want to help you do the thing; e.g. “We should have gotten our allies on board, but instead they were all against us”

data-driven journalism: an article with an Excel chart or a number in it that wasn’t just handed to the journalist by this or that spokesman/PR person and pasted into the story without understanding it or doublechecking

liberal: someone who is not liberal; fascist

Caplan agrees with me

This Bryan Caplan immigration post is O.K. And I mean O.K. in the original sense of Oll Korrect. It’s totally fine. The claims are sound.

Here’s one of them:

In the short-run, a demand spike [from allowing unrestricted immigration] leads to higher rents and housing prices, discouraging relocation without depriving anyone of the right to relocate.

So what Caplan is saying is that unrestricted immigration wouldn’t mean suddenly 6 billion people moving to the U.S. because, instead, all that would happen is that rents/housing prices would be given a boost from the extra demand. And he’s right! I agree!

In fact, I already wrote as much, in a post that got argued with, of course. So I guess I can point to this Caplan post now in support of my position that open-borders helps the already-wealthy and thus is, for them, the selfish position.

Oh, but that’s just the short run, he says. What would happen in the long run?

In the long-run, these higher real estate prices provide an incentive for construction firms to build more housing. As a result, housing prices would gradually decline from their temporary high – and the population of newly-popular Oakton would gradually swell.

More buildout of housing, more population density, more congestion. Hey, that’s right too!

I don’t think anyone disputes Caplan on these things. What they dispute is whether they want these outcomes. Increased real-estate values and increased population density are not somehow symmetrically neutral events, as regards the impact they have on peoples’ lives. They will perhaps improve the living conditions of some people, while others could fairly say that their lives would be harmed by such outcomes. As is true of most nontrivial policies.

The way we typically mediate policies with nontrivial, mixed effects is via the ballot box and the democratic-republican system. That is normal and it should be fine. The way this has worked for immigration is that we prefer it to be Non-Infinite rather than Infinite.

Okay, guys?

The only exceptions are supposed to be cases where one side’s preference in a policy debate is Disallowed by virtue of violating someone’s rights. That is not the case for immigration. (There is no universal right to immigrate anywhere you wish.) This doesn’t stop open-bordersers from pretending that there is, and it is precisely when they do that that I get most annoyed. But as for the rest of the discussion, I don’t think we have a material disagreement: open borders would, indeed, have effects like Boosting Home Values from the status-quo trajectory. Which almost by definition would help those who already have houses, and hurt those who don’t. So that’s what open-bordersers are arguing for. Bryan Caplan agrees with me on that.

Possibly the most important search term that’s ever found this blog

“was erin gray considered to be a bond girl?”

There are way too many layers to this question to suss out in a simple blog post so I think I’ll crowdsource the answer to this one.

Don’t get it: ‘the base’

I can’t remember if I’ve blogged this before or am just repeating myself after these 6-odd years of highly momentous, influential and lucrative RWCG blogging but there’s a piece of political terminology in very common usage which I really don’t get: ‘the base’.

‘The base’ of a political party is spoken of in weirdly self-contradictory terms. Everyone but me seems to instinctively know what it means. From listening to them I can gather these two things about ‘the base’:

1. They form the center, or most-assured foundation of support for the party. They are the most rabid, most ideological, most politically-involved, most motivated, most etc.

2. Politicians of a given party had better do what the ‘base’ of that party says. Politicians have to ‘appeal to’ them, or else. Or else what? Or else this ‘the base’ entity will revolt and, uh, decide not to vote for the party…that they are purportedly ‘the base’ of.

Tell me: how on earth does that make sense? How is that all not a contradiction?

To me, if they’re really ‘the base’, then they’re solid. They’re true-blue. Their vote will be there, rain or shine. There is no need to ‘appeal to’ or ‘pander to’ a base because a ‘base’, if it means anything, consists of the people who are already sold. You’d be preaching to the choir!

Yet commentators tell me again and again that this same group of people, this alleged ‘base’, is so fickle and so unreliable with their voting and support that all politicians of the party in question are constantly at risk of losing them at the drop of a hat to the point that it is an ongoing, overwhelming concern. If all of that is really true, you know what I say? THAT’S NOT ‘THE BASE’. That hypothetical group of people, if it exists, whatever else they are, doesn’t merit the description ‘base’.

It’s very common to hear that a politician is ‘pandering to the base’. I literally don’t understand how this can be true. I understand that politicians can pander, and I understand that anytime there is pandering happening, there have got to be panderees. But if so, they can’t be the damn ‘base’. What would be the point of ‘pandering’ to ‘the base‘? That’s a low-upside maneuver, a waste of effort. Right? Go do some high-leverage politicking and pander to people who still need to be won over and are winnable!

So I guess I don’t get it. What on earth is ‘the base’ supposed to mean?

UPDATE: From comments, the consensus appears to be that concerns about ‘the base’ are concerns about turnout. This ‘the base’ entity denotes people who might decide to turn out and vote, but also might not, depending on how inspired they are by the candidate. That’s all fine and the need to ‘pander to’ this group is obviously a very important dynamic in any election. But I humbly suggest that this group does not merit the descriptor ‘the base’. You can call them something like the marginals, or the iffys, or the periphery. A politician already has his ‘base’, and now he has to pander to the periphery in order to try to boost turnout above the base: do you see? How much more sense that makes? Maybe I’m just dumb but when you call this periphery ‘the base’ you just confuse me. And then, I don’t get it.

Repeal-and-replace – with Medicaid

I’ve asked this before but I’ll ask it again:

We are repeatedly being told that if some magic number of people have Signed Up For Obamacare (i.e. a barebones, possibly-subsidized Obamacare-compliant insurance plan that was purchased via the Obamacare-created ‘exchange’ (i.e. website)), that fact alone somehow makes it hard/impossible to repeal Obamacare. Why is this?

If the idea is that those people now form a constituency that is dependent on government for health insurance (whether they were or weren’t before), well yeah, but so what? There is already a well established government program for people that are dependent on government for health insurance, and it is called Medicaid. It can and will exist regardless of whether Obamacare is repealed**. Sometime in 2017, send all these people a letter: Dear [Sir/Madam], effective 12:01 a.m. on [June 30, 2017], the health insurance you purchased in 2014 will cease to be administered by [FlashInThePan RentSeeker InsCo.]. At that time your new insurance provider will instead be Medicaid. But don’t worry, all terms/conditions will remain the same, unless/until they are changed after that. [etc.]

What’s the problem exactly?

These ‘insurance’ plans are for the most part nothing but government-provided health insurance laundered through some private parties. What’s the big problem with just providing them the same thing via Medicaid directly. What’s so special about having it go through those insurance companies. Actually, with fewer middlemen, I ‘wouldthink’*** it would even be a cost saver.

The signups-mean-can’t-repeal position seems to be coming at this whole thing from a POV which conceives of ‘Obamacare’ as some kind of external entity which somehow independently and exogenously, and without needing financing, Supplies Healthcare Insurance To People. According to such a conception of things, then sure, just bringing all those people onto Medicaid would be, at least, a big deficit hit: it would be bringing onto the taxpayer’s balance sheet a bunch of liabilities that weren’t there before, and thus, it would be ‘hard’, and maybe even ‘impossible’.

But that’s an illusion, right? ‘Obamacare’ isn’t ‘supplying’ any insurance to people. Taxpayers (and fellow premium-payers, i.e., taxpayers) are the ones ‘supplying’ that insurance to others. People with Obamacare-supplied plans are already on the nation’s balance sheet as liabilities. Putting them on Medicaid ‘instead’ would just be a matter of trivially moving around line items, without materially changing the economics.

I mean, right? No? Then what am I missing?

**Don’t worry, I don’t expect Obamacare to be ‘repealed’ in a million years. This is largely an academic question I am asking.

***Yes, I am acknowledging there that this is an off the cuff analysis and I may not know what I’m talking about and there is probably something important that I’m missing. So what is it?

I’m a Liberal

Like David Henderson, I’m a liberal1.

1Ed. note: The author is using ‘liberal’ according to the original (real) definition of that term, not according to modern conversational version you may have heard and be more familiar with, according to which ‘liberal’ is used to denote a fascist.


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