Is Caplan joshing us?

I am hard put to say whether Bryan Caplan really takes this argument seriously, or if he just thinks it works rhetorically with some people:
"What would you think about a law that said that blacks couldn’t get a job without the government’s permission, or women couldn’t get a job without the government’s permission, or gays or Christians or anyone else?" George Mason economist Bryan Caplan asks. It's a pretty easy question. Obviously, such a law is discriminatory on its face, serves no rational purpose, and is unacceptable in a liberal democracy. But Caplan continues: "So why, exactly, is it that people who are born on the wrong side of the border have to get government permission just to get a job?"

Well Bryan, it is because they don't. Someone born in Canada does not need the permission of the American government to get a job. They can take any job they want in Canada, or anywhere else in the world, for that matter, without checking with the American government. They can even take a job with an American company without getting permission from the American government, so long is that job does not involve moving to America.

It is not the "getting a job" part they need permission for, but the "moving to America" part. So once the situation is rightly understood, the question becomes, "Why should anyone not currently part of the polity of the United States of America need to get the permission of its government, the body recognized as holding sovereign power in that polity by the vast majority of its members, just to join that polity?"

But once you phrase the question sensibly, the answer becomes pretty obvious: a group has the right to control who can become a member of the group. If it loses such control, it will soon cease to be a coherent group. Since Caplan is an anarchist, this is probably what he wants: for the United States to fall apart as a coherent social entity. But it really won't do to be upfront about that, will it? "I favor open borders because it will lead to the collapse of the United States government" is not going to find as much favor as the pseudo-argument he actually uses.

40 comments:

  1. …a group has the right to control who can become a member of the group. If it loses such control, it will soon cease to be a coherent group.

    Hmm. The property-based arguments from both "open border libertarians" and "closed border libertarians" are equally stupid. And you're right about it being about permission to move here instead of get a job here. But I'm still not seeing how a state not being able to control border flow will result in its disintegration. I mean, I want an official process just without quotas, but I'm not saying no denials or no turning away criminals. Then again, I'm someone who wishes to ban HOAs, so maybe I'm looking at this from a different perspective than you.

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    1. Samson, a state's right to control its borders is quite compatible with it allowing high levels of immigration. But any group must have the ability to control who can join it, or it will not remain a coherent group: think of there being no restriction on who could join the NY Yankees and demand playing time. Or ask yourself what would happen to the US if the entire population of India moved here tomorrow?

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    2. Samson, a state's right to control its borders is quite compatible with it allowing high levels of immigration.

      What if I rephrased it to "states (polities) have the right to control their borders, but not institute quotas"?

      Or ask yourself what would happen to the US if the entire population of India moved here tomorrow?

      Chaos, population density would quadruple, mayhem would break out, etc. But that's a bit unlikely, don't you think (the population of India moving here overnight, not the bad results)?

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    3. It does not matter how unlikely this is. If you agree it would be bad, then you agree that in some situations immigration restrictions would be justified.

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    4. Like I said, I'm fine with barring entry for security reasons and with deporting immigrants who commit crimes. I've been an avid hater of securitarianism for as long as I've been politically aware and neither of those stances bothered me in the least. It's just quotas that I'm against, which I was surprised to learn still exist. I don't know if this makes me an advocate of "open borders" because I'm still at a loss for what "open borders" exactly entails.

      By the way, Gene, can I get your opinion on the quality of the property-based arguments open and closed border libertarians use? I happen to think both are crap, but the open border one makes slightly more sense than the closed border one, I think.

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  2. Gene says "a group has the right to control who can become a member of the group. If it loses such control, it will soon cease to be a coherent group."

    If it has the right to control who has who can become a member of the group, does it also have the right to control who REMAINS a member of the group? If the majority in the US votes to expel all Irish Americans , is that cool ? If not, why not ?

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    1. It depends on the group doesn't it rob? Some groups, like the US government, operate on a founding principle that all members are equal. So no, the US could not. And families can choose members by adoption but cannot later un-adopt.

      Other groups, like the NBA, has rules permitting the expulsion of members under certain conditions. And a private club can probably expel anyone anytime it wants.

      But I suspect you knew all this already.

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    3. Are you saying that the thing that would make the expulsion of ethic minorities by the US government wrong is that it's against the US constitution? If they changed the rules to be more like the NBA would it then become OK ?

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    4. Rob back at his favorite passtime: rewriting what I say to make it dumb.

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    5. Gene, I asked 2 questions. How can that be rewriting what you say?

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    6. Rob, if I can join the conversation here: what you are doing seems to be ignoring particulars for the sake of the general. This is very ideological thinking - something that I would assume you would be aware of if you read Gene's blog regularly =)

      You seem to be saying that because Gene is saying that it depends upon the group for just exclusion or inclusion, he is also saying that we can exclude anyone justly for any reason at all (or include anyone). You are trying to make his assertions sound arbitrary.

      But, in all honesty, it is people who argue for open borders that are being arbitrary, because they are not looking at the particulars of cases. They just assume, based on some principle, that we should allow people to freely go here and there and, more or less, everywhere. This should strike someone with common sense as absurd.

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    7. Are you saying that the thing that would make the expulsion of ethic minorities by the US government wrong is that it's against the US constitution? If they changed the rules to be more like the NBA would it then become OK ?

      I…who…what…how the **** can you make that jump? Nowhere in his comment is that even remotely implied.

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    8. Rob, I can only see two possible explanations for someone making that canyon jump of a question: they're either playing stupid or they actually are stupid. And I don't think you are the latter.

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    9. If they changed the rules to be more like the NBA would it then become OK?

      Gene's point is that there are different rules for different contexts, something most libertarians seem to forget when they become libertarians.

      In times of peace, the police can't put a neighborhood on lock down; when a terrorist suspect is on the run, they can.

      A Catholic school can have school prayers because it's a Catholic school; a public school cannot have administrator-led prayers because the government serves a special role in civil society as a passive rule enforcer.

      Derivative works used for commercial purposes are illegal; derivative works serving as parodies are protected under the fair use doctrine.

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    10. Right, Samson: that is why I am starting to lose patience here. I say something like "Sometimes going to war is justified" and rob comes back with a response like, "Oh, so you're saying it was fine for Germany to invade Poland in 1939?"

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    11. Nuance seems lost on a significant portion of libertarians. Unfortunately, I've spent so much time submerged in libertarian non-sequiturs that they feel like the norm for me.

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    12. They just assume, based on some principle, that we should allow people to freely go here and there and, more or less, everywhere.

      *Proprietary communities need not apply.

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    13. Of course, Samson, you are correct, but it goes much deeper than that: private property in land is explicitly based on the idea that we should NOT allow people to go freely here and there! But rob, of course, completely ignores this.

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    14. When you own a big enough of plot of land like the Congo Free State or Hoppe's dream town the differences between property/ownership and territory/sovereignty become close to non-existent. And at that point all Austrian criticisms of "government intervention" become applicable to "private" operations.

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    15. Alex,

      I do not assume that "we should allow people to freely go here and there and, more or less, everywhere"

      I'm just not convinced that the US government is a fit arbiter to be making decision on our behalf about those things.

      I'm genuinely not clear why asking a clarifying question about Gene's views on the limits of state power is coming under such heavy fire. If the govt should decide who is let in, why is such a big leap to think they should also decide who stays?

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    16. He thinks ownership is a binary relation between owner and object. It is actually a relation between the owner, the object, and other people.

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    17. I'm just not convinced that the US government is a fit arbiter to be making decision on our behalf about those things.

      More nonsense. If not government, then who? If they had that power, then they'd be the government. Moreover, what difference does it make? We're talking about the content of the policies here.

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    18. If the govt should decide who is let in, why is such a big leap to think they should also decide who stays?

      First of all, the government doesn't "decide who is let in". That's a bit of a loaded way to state it. Second of all, the difference is that once you've been let in, then you can stay.

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  3. Anarchists understand your rhetorical point well Gene. That is why they fight tooth and nail to obfuscate when someone points out their misleading and tendentious language. This happens everytime they claim anarchism is non violent, or trot out the "NAP". Your rebuttal here shows why they do: their case collapses when presented without word games. Good post.

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    1. "non violent"

      They should read Mises:

      "All ownership derives from occupation and violence. [...] That all rights derive from violence, all ownership from appropriation or robbery, we may freely admit to those who oppose ownership on considerations of natural law."

      Ludwig von Mises, "Socialism: An Economic and Sociological Analysis" Ch. 1, section 2.

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    2. They should indeed read Mises - and they would discover how this insight maps onto a coherent support for utilitarian minarchism.

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    3. if anarcho-capitalists could become utilitarian minarchists that would be a step forward.

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  4. But Caplan continues: "So why, exactly, is it that people who are not members of your tennis club have to get permission from your tennis club just to play tennis?"

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    1. Which matters not at all to the "just get a job" misrepresentation.

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    2. sorry, I'm not sure what you mean..

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    3. sorry, Ken, I really didn't understand your comment.. could you please explain?

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    4. Mr.:That your counter is irrelevant to Gene's point. Caplan's permission to work point is still wrong in exactly the way Gene identifies.

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    5. I was rephrasing Caplan's comment to show its silliness, I agree with Gene.

      As Gene said, people who are not members of your tennis club don't have to get permission from your tennis club to play tennis. But they do have to get permission from your tennis club to play tennis *in your tennis club*.

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    6. For what it's worth, Mr., *I* got your joke the first time. Next time don't be so subtle.

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  5. I'm afraid Bryan is both completely serious and absolutely clueless.

    BTW, Gene, are you familiar at all with Matt Bruenig? He seems like the illegitimate child of you and Rosa Luxemburg (intellectually speaking, of course).

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    1. Just read him. I think I will continue to do so.

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    2. You should try his wife. Much more interesting.

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    3. What do you mean, "try his wife"? I am not that kind of guy!

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    4. I know this, just as I know you're not the kind of guy to pass on a set up like that.

      http://elizabethstokerbruenig.com/2014/10/03/medieval-insights-into-modern-charity/

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