13
Sep
11

Open borders and exit rights: not just for wookiee-suiters

I don’t remember libertarians getting tarred quite so heavily with guilt-by-association the last time the Republicans ran a primary.  We must be doing something right.

Anyway, a while ago I wrote that change feels coercive.  Back then I was approaching it from a more or less liberaltarian perspective, but it’s just as effective an explanation coming from a hardcore an-cap basis.  This time around, Ari Kohen complains that we nasty libertarians are talking about societies in which he doesn’t want to live, and (worse) we’re even trying to find ways to make them happen:

Dr. Kohen’s post jumps off from the Tea Party debate’s audience chanting “let him die” about a hypothetical man who opts out of health insurance, then gets hit by a truck or something and can’t afford life-saving treatment.  He argues (not unreasonably) that most people are personally quite risk-averse, then writes:

Why, then, do we have such a problem with the idea that we could be forced to carry health insurance or to pay for the necessary medical treatment of others?

The answer, of course, is that health insurance costs money and so the government is forcing people to pay for something they claim neither to want nor to need. This is a major infringement on our freedom in two ways: we aren’t allowed to choose not to have health insurance and we aren’t allowed to choose to do whatever we like with the money we earn.

The trouble for me, I suppose, is that the decision to do as I like with regard to health insurance isn’t a decision that touches only on my life; it impacts a great many others.

It happens that I’m planning to write something on public health and external costs, also prompted the Tea Party debate (although in this case it’s Michele Bachmann’s anti-vaxxer hysteria), but I’ll leave that for another time.  After describing the libertarian perspective in commendably objective terms — though he attributes it to “the Tea Party”, which I find obnoxious — he hits the crux of his argument:

The difference that exists between my own position and that of the Tea Party, at bottom, is that I don’t feel less free when I look at the amount of money that comes out of my check every month, even though I’d rather have that money in my pocket. The reason is that I’m actually making a choice too: I choose to live in this country, with its government and tax structure and social safety nets. In fact, I embrace it. We can certainly do better in terms of those safety nets by working to make our government more efficient and effective, but that’s not what Paul is advocating; instead, he thinks that the vast majority of the government — and the services it provides — should simply be eliminated. To my mind, that would mean we’d be living in a very different political community, one that I wouldn’t like nearly as much. I want to live in a political community that chooses to take care of others, one that is committed to the idea that no one should go hungry or be unable to get critical medical attention.

(Emphasis added.)

Anarchocapitalists, or at least the honest ones, are far from Utopians.  Anarchotopia, if and when it ever comes into being, might be a fantastic place to live and work, but it’s not likely to be an easy or comfortable one.  If you want a safety net, you’ll have to buy it and string it yourself.  Early 21st Century North Americans are vastly unlikely to slot seamlessly into such a place, which makes it unpleasant for (most of) us to think about, and the above is one reason why.  (It’s also one reason why I’m a gradualist about anarchocapitalism.)

Nonetheless, let’s suppose that Ron Paul does — by some absurd stroke of luck — get elected President, and further that he manages actually to eliminate Dr. Kohen’s beloved social safety net.  That’s going to make a lot of people acutely unhappy, possibly to the point where they’ll want to leave the country.  This is where open borders and exit rights — let’s call them mobility liberties, because I’m in the mood to make up a new term this afternoon — become critical to the libertarian agenda (so much as we have an agenda).  Libertarians spend a lot of time talking about how much we’re going to enjoy living in a state with a smaller, uh, state.  We don’t spend much time talking about what the folks who don’t want to live in a more minarchist state are going to be able to do about it, and when we do it’s usually smug speculative schadenfreude.  That makes us look like an existential threat to people who feel naked and vulnerable without the sheltering hand of the welfare state, and — quelle surprise — pointing out that we want to legalize drugs too isn’t enough to get them on side.

I think we ought to be emphasizing the human-welfare benefits of open borders and immigration a whole fucking lot more than anyone besides maybe Bryan Caplan has done to date.  (Before you read on, you should at least click that first link.  Here, I’ll repeat it for you: click here.  Seriously, it’s fucking important.)  When I started thinking about anarchotopia I imagined it as “the place”, not least because it’s where I imagine I’d want to live.  The more I think about it from a practical perspective, though, the more I suspect that feasible anarchism will only come to pass in a large cluster of micronations with very low migration costs.  It would be stupid to the point of recklessness for me to ignore the likelihood that, even in such a market- and liberty-friendly environment, there won’t be a vast market for citizenship in a welfare state.

We need to recognize and engage the “shackles and crutches” argument, and we need to recognize and promote the fact that closed borders are one of the heaviest shackles around.  (See what I did there?  I linked to that Bryan Caplan post again.  I’m not fucking kidding; click the fuck through.)  And while we’re at it, it would be nice if we’d quit speculating quite so gleefully about how miserable statists are gonna be after the an-cap revolution… at least in public.

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26 Responses to “Open borders and exit rights: not just for wookiee-suiters”


  1. 1 Not Sure
    September 13, 2011 at 19:53

    “I want to live in a political community that chooses to take care of others, one that is committed to the idea that no one should go hungry or be unable to get critical medical attention.”

    I guess I’m missing the part of this political community where people like Ari Kohen are prohibited from taking care of others or working as they see fit to be sure that no one goes hungry or is unable to get critical medical attention.

    Oh… but he doesn’t want to actually do those things himself, does he now? He just wants them to be done in a way that makes him feel all warm and fuzzy. And he wants to force everybody else to support his ideals, too.

    Nice.

    • September 13, 2011 at 20:17

      To be fair to Kohen, I didn’t quote the part where he talks about the coercive elements of taxation, and how ultimately he prefers to live with them than without them. Kohen’s pretty up-front about the idea that he’s probably going to end up paying more to support other people than he’s going to receive in support (at least in his hypothetical Welfaretopia; let’s not get into the generational effects of Medicare), and that he’s happy to do so. Given that he’s a tenured prof, he’s probably paying a fair bit of tax on his income. There are a lot of things that rub me the wrong way about his argument — chief among them his willingness to have other people coerced into supporting the safety net he likes — but free-riding isn’t one of them.

      I think Kohen’s problem with the idea of “people like Ari Kohen […] taking care of others” is that he doesn’t think there are enough people who’d actually do it. He’s probably right, too, at least in the short term. From what I understand, when states stop automatically deducting union dues from employees’ paycheques, most unionized employees stop paying dues — far more, that is, than would prefer not to be part of a union. You’d end up with too few actual contributors to support a universal system. (A smaller problem might be that paying taxes — especially if they’re automatically deducted — is easier than researching charities and writing cheques to them.)

      Now, if people want to affirmatively sign up for a tax-funded universal welfare state, I’m all for it and I wish them the best of luck. This is where I think the open borders/exit rights/micronations arguments should start to come in. The problem is that very few people actually sign up for any sort of social safety net: usually they’re born into it and have a hard time leaving.

      • 3 Not Sure
        September 13, 2011 at 20:40

        “There are a lot of things that rub me the wrong way about his argument — but free-riding isn’t one of them.”

        Fair enough. Didn’t click the link. My fault.

        “I think Kohen’s problem with the idea of “people like Ari Kohen […] taking care of others” is that he doesn’t think there are enough people who’d actually do it. He’s probably right, too, at least in the short term.”

        You’re probably right here, too. But it’s people like him who have taught others that somebody else will do the job for them, isn’t it? I suppose expecting the folks who enabled this attitude to assume some responsibility for how it’s turned out is out of the question, though.

      • 4 Alrenous
        September 14, 2011 at 05:04

        Given that he’s a prof, basically his entire salary comes from explicit or implicit taxation. His taxes are circular in nature.

  2. 5 Alrenous
    September 14, 2011 at 05:02

    On exit rights, we agree.

    “We don’t spend much time talking about what the folks who don’t want to live in a more minarchist state are going to be able to do about it”

    I object! I think about that all the time. I think cities should be more or less autonomous, which means the next one over might be communist. If you don’t like anarcho-freedom, you can move there. Just, when your factories start burning down, you’re liable for the smoke damage on everything downwind.

    “we document gaps in real earnings for observably identical, low-skill workers exceeding 1,000 percent between the United States and countries like Haiti, Nigeria, and Egypt”

    If they’re observably identical, then they are doing the same work making the same things, which implies they create exactly the same amount of wealth.
    Moving them cannot increase real GPD, because they’re not making anything new. Denominate in wealth, not dollars; life becomes simpler.
    They may not create the exact same, but that requires capital investment in infrastructure. Capital investment is a labour->wealth multiplier.
    You and Caplan claim that moving those workers would make them 1000 times richer, but it absolutely physically impossible. At best, it changes the tokens they’re given.
    It looks like they failed to adjust for buying power and similar, and I’m positive they didn’t adjust for the fact their new home won’t have infrastructure to support them either, at least at first. And if we need to build stuff, just build it where they already are.
    Second, California has demonstrably tanked its economy. Californians are now fleeing and implementing their failed policies in places like Houston. If you move a Haitian to Houston, they will attempt to implement their failed Haitian policies in Houston.

    Intriguingly, the reverse cap isn’t true. Move a Singaporean to Houston, and they probably won’t know enough about Singapore to export its success. They probably know just enough to not screw it worse.

    Of course my solution isn’t to close borders. My solution is to prevent immigrants from having any power to implement policies…though that implies they have to be deportable at will and similar things.

    • September 14, 2011 at 13:05

      Thanks for dropping in!

      I object! I think about that all the time.

      Then I apologize. Maybe I should’ve made it clear that I’m not coming up with these ideas about competitive government and micronations all by my lonesome — instead, I’m getting it from people like you who think about it all the time. (Thanks for that.) But:

      I think cities should be more or less autonomous, which means the next one over might be communist. If you don’t like anarcho-freedom, you can move there.

      This is more or less a “far” ideal (I hope to live to see it, but I don’t expect to). The context of my post, or at least of people like Dr. Kohen who object to “the libertarian agenda”, is very near — January 2013. Folks like us generally have a pretty good plan in place for how to accommodate progressives in Libertopia, but not so much for how to accommodate progressives in the second term of a Gary Johnson presidency (for example). Most progressives don’t believe that Libertopia is even possible — I think they think they’re saving us from it, for our own good — so “you can just move to Sweden Inc. once a swarm of private micronations emerges” is insufficient.

      If I had a good idea for how to engage progressive fears about smaller government in the near frame, this is where I’d put it.

      If they’re observably identical, then they are doing the same work making the same things, which implies they create exactly the same amount of wealth.

      If all the CMP2008 paper does is compare wages, I’m in trouble. Basically, if the reductio of “Ford employees in Michigan have higher wages than Toyota employees in Texas, therefore moving from Texas to Michigan improves welfare” holds for CMP2008, I need to rethink my position. But I haven’t actually read the paper; I’m executing an appeal to authority and assuming that Caplan wouldn’t cite anything so simpleminded. Maybe this weekend I’ll track down the original sources.

      Moving them cannot increase real GPD, because they’re not making anything new. Denominate in wealth, not dollars; life becomes simpler.
      They may not create the exact same, but that requires capital investment in infrastructure. Capital investment is a labour->wealth multiplier.
      You and Caplan claim that moving those workers would make them 1000 times richer, but it absolutely physically impossible. At best, it changes the tokens they’re given.

      I think you’re missing access to infrastructure, other supporting goods and services, and network effects in general.

      If someone in Haiti brews an excellent beer, it’s the next best thing to useless to me due to lack of transportation infrastructure — he can’t get it to me. If someone in Egypt brews the same beer, he can probably ship it to me, but the cost will probably exceed what I’m willing to pay. If either one moves to Houston, their distribution costs fall to the point where I can actually enjoy their beer. They also get the benefit of moving to a place where they can learn from other brewers and improve their craft.

      If we take “observably identical” to mean “in absolutely identical circumstances in all respects except physical location”, you’re right, but vacuously so because no such “observably identical” population exists.

      • 7 Alrenous
        September 14, 2011 at 13:28

        You’re welcome, thanks for the thought-provoking post!

        Technical; is that the blockquote tag you’re using? Looks neat.

        I mention the autonomous cities because the ideal serves as a guide to the present. In this case, I would suggest government a la carte. Have tax rates set by whether you vote R or D, for example. Forward proposals that can be applied discriminately, such as having universal heatlhcare for everyone who signs up – keep the funding structure but apply it only to those who consent. Small for me and big for ye, as far as possible. Simply give up on irredeemably universal issues.

        Though I agree with Mencius Moldbug that gradualism is doomed. Progressives, as per Jim’s blog, employ entryists, and reactionaries don’t. Capture the elite and win all in one strike or you’re just letting them win.

        Ah, yes, I forgot about network effects. Even still, networks are simply a form of capital investment and importing more workers reduces the capital/worker ratio. Import everyone and it will fall basically to zero; there’s limits on these things.

        • September 14, 2011 at 15:44

          Yep, blockquote tags.

          In this case, I would suggest government a la carte. Have tax rates set by whether you vote R or D, for example.

          Interesting idea! You could prevent the adverse-selection problem (I vote R for low tax rates while I’m working, and vote D for juicy entitlements when I retire or get sick) by doing some sort of regression on voting habits. It’s far from perfect, but it’s a nifty start.

          Even still, networks are simply a form of capital investment and importing more workers reduces the capital/worker ratio. Import everyone and it will fall basically to zero; there’s limits on these things.

          Physical networks, yeah, I’m willing to agree (although I don’t have any real data one way or another). Social and informational networks, though, I’m not convinced. I’m thinking of Ryan Avent’s recent stuff on the correlation between urban density and prosperity here, which suggests that importing more workers increases the capital/worker ratio in important ways.

          • 9 Alrenous
            September 14, 2011 at 15:55

            Since you like the tax idea, I should mention that credit goes to my housemate, who is, ironically, a fundamentalist Evangelical democratist.
            In fact, you don’t even need regression. Dems would find that they can’t afford juicy entitlements when the only people who vote for them are old people. The system is robustly self-correcting, though I won’t vouch for total security.

            Ah yes, I forgot about the density effect as well.

            However, the physical act of forming a social network is meeting people and getting to know them. This is investment of the ur-capital, time. Either new people won’t be able to access existing networks or else they can but they’ll progressively strain the existing networks until they crack. Ultimately, social networks have a limited size before they bifurcate, based on how long it takes to maintain a relationship with each new person.

            • September 14, 2011 at 16:34

              Dems would find that they can’t afford juicy entitlements when the only people who vote for them are old people.

              Some say this is already happening.

              However, the physical act of forming a social network is meeting people and getting to know them. This is investment of the ur-capital, time. Either new people won’t be able to access existing networks or else they can but they’ll progressively strain the existing networks until they crack. Ultimately, social networks have a limited size before they bifurcate, based on how long it takes to maintain a relationship with each new person.

              Definitely agree on large networks being unsustainable. Are cities/metro areas like New York and San Francisco still too small for this to break the social infrastructure, though? I doubt it, because I know of this effect from The Mythical Man-Month and software development — software companies are much smaller than cities, although perhaps with more rigid communications networks. (And while we’re on the subject, the big coastal cities Avent likes tend to have a lot of immigrants, too.)

            • 11 Alrenous
              September 14, 2011 at 16:44

              It would be nice if it were already happening. Therefore I suspect optimism bias working on a cyclic trend.

              Cities as they are are already massively bifurcated – but they grew organically, so the nodes are interconnected. Socially, a city is a very large group of glommed-together social networks. If you just dump a bunch of new people in a city, you’ll get an isolated ethnic enclave. As indeed the Anglosphere did and have.

              Come to think, that is exactly the definition of ‘colony’ from colonialism. You get a mini-colony at the municipal level.

  3. 12 perlhaqr
    September 14, 2011 at 06:51

    Two points, one of which is pretty much already discussed above:

    1.) Exit rights don’t do much good without entry rights other places. It doesn’t do much good to tell Americans who hate the Second Amendment “Move to England, then!” if England won’t let them in.

    2.) Nothing stops statists from setting up their own safety nets and even whole massive coercive governments in Anarchotopia (other than the fact that people can leave if they want). I can’t experience a similar amplitude of liberty inside of their Sweden Part 2. Or, short version: My dream does not preclude theirs. Their dream precludes mine.

    • 13 perlhaqr
      September 14, 2011 at 06:51

      I mean, you talk about “existential threat”…

    • September 14, 2011 at 13:54

      Exit rights don’t do much good without entry rights other places.

      Ah yeah, that’s the elephant in the room. I don’t think too many Americans would have trouble emigrating, but I don’t actually have any data either way.

      Nothing stops statists from setting up their own safety nets and even whole massive coercive governments in Anarchotopia

      Well… they might not be able to accumulate a critical mass of safety-netters in Anarchotopia. As the SSA is discovering, welfare schemes need big pools of contributors.

      Really my problem with this argument is that it’s in a “far” frame of reference, based on premises (like “Anarchotopia is possible and sustainable”) that progressives are unlikely to accept. Progressives’ fears are much more short-term. I’m arguing that libertarians should spend more time addressing the short-term fears progressives have about libertarian policies.

      • 15 Alrenous
        September 14, 2011 at 16:11

        I don’t want to get into two separate debates here, but think about the physical costs of exit, as well. Moving costs, social network decay, government interference on both ends, hassle, etc. Compare countries’ relative total exit costs to their tax rates.

      • 18 perlhaqr
        September 16, 2011 at 10:46

        I don’t think too many Americans would have trouble emigrating, but I don’t actually have any data either way.

        Depends where you’re going, I guess, and what risks you’re willing to take in terms of permanency, I suppose, but I and my wife (Dual Income, No Kids, both with advanced technical degrees [I’m a computer jock / EMT / welder / machinist, she’s a trauma pharmacist], both in relatively good health) would have difficulties being accepted for immigration purposes in either Switzerland or New Zealand, which are the two places we’ve looked into moving. They both have publicly available rubrics of qualifications, on a points based system, which will show what’s required for immigration and citizenship.

        Of course, we also wanted to move permanently, and begin amassing capital again once we were there. If you’re willing to accept the equivalent of an American H1-B work visa, you can move there, but no guarantees you can actually stay.

        And, of course, the US reserves the right to tax you on your income in a foreign country, too, forever, unless you renounce your citizenship, which renunciation they won’t accept if it’s for tax purposes.

        Well… they might not be able to accumulate a critical mass of safety-netters in Anarchotopia.

        Then they should realise it’s a shitty idea and give up on it, instead of sticking a gun in my face to force me to play along. ;)

        I’m arguing that libertarians should spend more time addressing the short-term fears progressives have about libertarian policies.

        How? I mean, ultimately, they’re right. Libertarian goals and Progressive goals are pretty much mutually exclusive. I wanna be left the hell alone. They don’t want to. Someone has to lose, basically.

        • 19 Alrenous
          September 16, 2011 at 11:05

          A: Someone has to lose but only because they won’t leave us alone. You can tell they’re forcing the conflict because they can unilaterally end it at any time; therefore, they take responsibility for all consequences of the conflict – even violent insurrection.

          B: Proggies really do think if they don’t busybody it up, they’ll die. This is false. Though it is true their unions and universities would be unable to survive unchanged. (Indeed, it is not impossible that the opposite is true – they’ll die if they don’t stop.)

        • 20 Alrenous
          September 16, 2011 at 11:08

          Actually, come to think, human-human parasitism is unstable, and so progressivism is absolutely doomed. The only question is whether any particular progressive will live to see its end or manage to die comfortably beforehand.

        • September 16, 2011 at 12:18

          I’m arguing that libertarians should spend more time addressing the short-term fears progressives have about libertarian policies.

          How? I mean, ultimately, they’re right. Libertarian goals and Progressive goals are pretty much mutually exclusive. I wanna be left the hell alone. They don’t want to. Someone has to lose, basically.

          Ultimately, yeah, libertarian and progressive goals are mutually exclusive. Short-term goals, not so much. While I believe that most progressive politicians want to keep running the War On (Drugs|Terror), for example, the moral outrage coming from the Democratic base these days threatening primary challenges makes me think that progressives in general sincerely don’t want those things. Well, hey, neither do I. I don’t want enormous corporate-welfare subsidies to Big Agriculture or failed investment banks, either. If we could cross off the items that live in the intersection of libertarianism and progressivism, we’d get a real increase in liberty — and I might even live to see it.

          (I’d also dearly love to see libertarians set themselves up as an independent political force, rather than the redheaded stepchild of the conservative movement.)

          Basically I’m interested in maximizing the value of the integral of liberty over time. If we let time go to infinity, the short term doesn’t matter, but for actual people who are vastly unlikely to live forever, the upper bound of the integral is finite. A big step change in liberty when the El Neil Revolution finally happens in five hundred years is of no use to the puppy who gets shot in a drug raid tomorrow.

          • 22 perlhaqr
            September 16, 2011 at 17:25

            It has been my experience in debate that progressives are generally unwilling to give up the economics arguments to make common cause with libertarians about the things we do agree on. Conservatives will occasionally be willing to give up the drug war when presented with the arguments “It’s not the government’s job, and also look at the precedent it sets WRT guns”.

            To be fair, many libertarians (including myself) are unwilling / incapable of giving up the economic arguments to make common cause with progressives on the things we do agree on, too. But it just makes me so mad that someone might claim to own me, it’s hard to get past.

            • September 16, 2011 at 17:43

              It has been my experience in debate that progressives are generally unwilling to give up the economics arguments to make common cause with libertarians about the things we do agree on.

              Yep.

              Part of the problem — as demonstrated by this comment thread :-) — is that people tend to slip into an idealistic, “what would a stable utopia look like?” mode of thought when ideological debates come up. So when a libertarian comes to a progressive and says “Hey, look, why can’t we make common cause to get rid of corporate welfare?”, the progressive often looks past the immediate benefit (less corporate welfare) to the libertarian’s far goals and replies with “But you just want to privatize the fire department! LIBERTARIANS HATE KITTENS!

              I think what scares off both sides is the realization that common cause (getting rid of corporate welfare) not only brings “us” closer to our goals, but also brings the hated “them” closer to their goals. So a progressive who’s mortally afraid of anarchotopia will support the Farm Bill and its Big Agriculture handouts because it’s a step away from anarchotopia. What both sides need to realize is that achieving common-cause goals makes a better world by their own standards as well as those of the hated other side.

              Conservatives will occasionally pretend to be willing to give up the drug war when presented with the arguments “It’s not the government’s job, and also look at the precedent it sets WRT guns”.

              FTFY.

              Me? Bitter? Only a lot.

            • 24 perlhaqr
              September 16, 2011 at 19:22

              No. My father is a full blown, ex-Naval officer, Mormon, Republican, conservative. And he has admitted in so many words that he was wrong about the drug war.

              Maybe some of them are only pretending, but at least one actually meant it. I am confident that my father would have continued arguing it if he felt otherwise. (I mean, I know where I got it from…) ;)

              And as for your other point, well, I love kittens. :D

            • September 16, 2011 at 23:56

              Sorry, I should have specified conservative politicians.


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