Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Guest Post by Eli Harman on Those Open-Borders Libertarians

As I've said before, open-borders libertarians are useful idiots for the Democratic-Republican party, which, never mind the occasional rhetoric to the contrary, remains committed to open borders and to welcoming any and all foreigners, from the Corleones to the Tsarnaevs, to move right in and sign up for bennies, as though living in the West in general and the United States in particular is some kind of basic human right. It isn't.

For libertarians to promiscuously invite anybody and everybody to move in is like inviting drunks to join your AA chapter. Soon they'll outvote you and use your dues money to build stills and breweries, and supply booze stamps to the population at large. But a certain brand of ditzy libertarian insists that it would be immoral not to welcome them in. Logically, of course, that means that by their lights, libertarianism is impossible or at least not sustainable for more than a generation at best.

Matt Bailey alerted me to this piece by Eli Harmon:

Guest post by Eli Harman

Some, like Bryan Caplan [link], are fond of touting the benefits of immigration. These are real, but I think -- on the other hand --Caplan's treatment of the costs are, most charitably interpreted, naive and careless.

Wherever you look, xenophobia, in some form, and to some extent, appears close to a human universal.

Which hypothesis seems more plausible, that across time and space, human have consistently and persistently erred in precisely the same, costly (according to Caplan) way? Or that xenophobia might have some adaptive value?

I happen to think that America (in particular) and the west (in general) have peoples and cultures worth preserving. There are some distinctly beneficial features of these which would tend only to be attenuated by large-scale immigration of non-western foreigners. (Or even, in some cases, by western ones.)

But even setting this aside, there are benefits to homogeneity and costs to heterogeneity which probably should not be ignored.

One objection would be that to the extent that our institutions are democratic (which is somewhat) they're not capable of resolving conflicting imperatives but only of privileging some over others. "Multicultural democracy" is a joke.

(BTW, the interests that are privileged need not be those of the majority. See: the problem of concentrated benefits and diffuse costs.)

It isn't just a matter of democracy (for example) "not working." Democracy works fine for particular purposes. It's an eminently suitable form of government for a corporation because shareholders' interests are perfectly aligned towards maximization of profit (to the extent that shareholders are distinct from customers or employees.)

This is why democracy works relatively better in Denmark than in, say, Iraq. Denmark is less diverse, and the interests of Danes are more closely aligned.

So I feel pretty confidant in making the following prediction; among successful polities, the most "diverse" must be the most authoritarian or autocratic, while the most "democratic" or "liberal" (in either sense) must be the most homogenous. Which approach is better? Probably there's room in the world for all of these. But I don't think they can be combined into a single, successful, polity.

A more authoritarian regime may be able to realize the benefits of diversity and pass them on to its subjects (e.g. Singapore) by containing its costs where a democratic one would be plagued by rent-seeking or a libertarian one by free-riding if it were to permit the same.

Now, I like liberty. But it's empirically verifiable that it isn't most people's top priority. And even among those for whom it is, there are many different, sometimes incompatible, ways in which they may conceive of and prioritize it. So if I want to live in a stable polity that prioritizes liberty (in the way that I do) most people need to be excluded from it.

That just seems to be the way it is.
Quibcag: The excluder is one of the girls from K-On! (けいおん! Keion!)


  1. One thing 'libertarianism' has never dealt with (and in fact ignores) is the classic 'The Tragedy of the Commons'. Something they dismiss by 'handwaving' - i.e. someone (singularly) 'owns' every square yard/meter of the planet Earth - and accept/take responsibility for everything that falls within their 'property rights'.
    Here's an example of it: The 'work microwave' vs, the 'home microwave'.
    You know what I mean, the 'work microwave' (even if bought by a single employee) gets quite grubby - and it rarely gets cleaned.
    Everyone says ''I'll clean it out later'', and as time goes on it gets dirtier and dirtier.
    Who's responsibility is it to clean it regularly?
    If you're a ''theoretical libertarian'' you will clean it out each and every time you use it. But IRL you'll say 'I covered that dish' (or popped a bag of popcorn) in it so I didn't make it dirtier.
    So you didn't clean it. Complain as you wish, but you didn't clean out the 'work microwave' even if you bought it and put it there for everyone to use.
    Now think of it in 'libertarian' terms, where I live I own my piece of (land) property, I can run a 'still' to make and distill alcohol. {distilling alcohol without government licenses/tax exemptions} is of course a crime.
    I do not encourage anyone to break the law.

    1. That does sound like quite the issue and it most certainly deserves to be addressed but we must remember there is a certain optimal order in which tasks should be performed. Whatever issues it may possess, there is no arguing that a libertarian society would be vastly more preferable to any system currently in place in the world today. Naturally there will be a period of growing pains as we try and adjust the rules to make our society more compatible with reality but I really don't believe there is any other way to resolve 'The Tragedy of the Commons' without at least establishing libertarianism first.

  2. The more immigrants, the more people howling about discrimination.

  3. Robert Heinlein said that freedom and ignorance did not mix and that a free society required a people who desired and was willing to maintain freedom.