Economics, Social Justice

Yes, Global Wealth Inequality is Unjust

Jonathan Anomaly asks, “Is global wealth inequality unjust?” Anomaly and Dan Moller suggest that global wealth inequality may be less unjust than a lot of people think because rich countries have good political institutions and cultures that encourage social and scientific experimentation, not because they are actively harming poor countries.

Moller’s argument is that if wealthy countries did not cause global poverty they have no duty to provide aid. His main targets seem to be Richard Miller and Thomas Pogge, who argue that the system of global trade, which is imposed on everyone in the world, does cause poverty in poor countries. I agree with Moller that if anything, the system of global trade has made everyone better off, though it has made some much better off than others. And like Moller, I don’t think inequality is necessarily a moral problem. But like Pogge and Miller, I do think it is a moral problem if a system of property is imposed on everyone and it leaves some people so desperately poor they don’t have enough.

This argument is the same as my argument for the basic income. As Harry Frankfurt writes in one of my favorite papers, we should care about everyone having enough rather than an equal share. It is much easier to calculate an equal share than to calculate what counts as enough, but enough is what matters. Though it requires a further moral argument to say what enough is, I think most of us could agree that conditions extreme poverty do not give a person enough, whatever enough means. More than a billion people live in extreme poverty, and their lives are governed by a global property system that they have no choice but to participate in. My intuition is that just as domestic property systems should provide citizens with a basic income, a similar argument can be deployed to support limited duties of assistance for people in extreme poverty if we could know that assistance could make a meaningful difference.

I imagine a lot of BHL readers will be pretty unsympathetic to this argument. Some libertarians will object to my claim that property systems are coercive in ways that require providing everyone who is coerced by a property system to have enough. Some libertarians seem to think that the existing system of global capitalism is just everyone exercising their natural pre-political property rights without violating anyone else’s entitlements. Or, some people think that assistance would just do more harm than good, and people aren’t owed assistance if it would make the global rich worse off without making anyone better off. Of course it’s hard to know what would be enough assistance. Aid may not work. If aid works, it’s hard to know why. It’s hard to know how to make aid better too. But there are amazing researchers who are working to find the answers to these questions. Some worry that aid is paternalistic or infantilizing, but it doesn’t have to be. Just because we don’t know how best to improve the lives the global poor doesn’t mean we should stick to the current system of basically not trying at all.

For libertarians who are skeptical of wealth redistribution though, here is another reason that global wealth inequality is unjust—borders. As my co-blogger Chris writes, there’s no such thing as a closed border libertarian. As far as I know, Pogge doesn’t mention the global system of borders in his argument for eradicating systemic poverty and Moller doesn’t discuss immigration in his article either. This is a striking oversight. Both Moller and Anomaly emphasize the non-zero sum nature of trade. Moller considers and responds to the objection that the rich got rich by unfair trade practices, but does not include borders on the list of unfair trade practices.

I’m not saying that rich countries got rich by turning poor people away at the border. I suspect the opposite is true, and that rich countries got rich when they had a lot of migration (like the US in the 19th century) and continue to get rich despite immigration restrictions. But one thing is clear, poorer people are poorer because of the border system. As Jason Brennan points out, opening the borders would not only respect people’s freedom of movement and association, it would also add trillions to the world economy and benefit rich and poor countries alike.

So yes, global wealth inequality is unjust. Not because rich countries cause poor countries to be poor, but because coercive property rules and borders trap people in conditions of extreme poverty. For these reasons, even libertarians should support policy reforms that improve the lives of the global poor—especially open borders.

  • urstoff

    Reading this post and your UBI post, I’m still not sure what a coercive property system is. Just any state-enforced form of property rights? Does this mean that extreme poverty in property systems that were not coercive are not unjust?

    It just seems odd to frame the question in terms of justice. Why not: it is bad that some people do not have enough. It is morally right to try to replace what is bad with what is good. Therefore, it is morally right to try to ensure that people have enough. Yes, you end up with the issues of supererogatory blah blah blah, which it seems to me is what importing the concept of justice is (unsuccessfully) trying to do. But replacing a tricky concept with a fuzzy concept is not philosophical progress.

  • David Jacobs

    Very helpful, Jessica. Borders certainly impede an individual’s access to productive bargains in a global market. Moreover, steps toward enhanced mobility (asymptotically approaching the perfect mobility of the market model) would generate better outcomes for the global poor. Barring the elimination of borders and the realization of near-perfect mobility, we have many too many people subjugated by poweful economic institutions that are mischaracterized as “spontaneous order.”

  • Aeon Skoble

    I agree with you about open borders, but am unclear on how to interpret this: “their lives are governed by a global property system” You must mean something other that what that sounds like – there is no global property system, property is understood and protected differently in different places; this is DeSoto’s point. Since I know you know that, what did you mean there?

    • Sean II

      “their lives are governed by a global property system…”

      I doubt anything can rescue that statement.

      For one thing, the places where you find the globe’s poorest people are conspicuously NOT governed by much of property system. I’d swear we’ve been over that point before, but whatever.

      For another, the Western (what say let’s not pretend) property system is NOT the thing stopping anyone from getting unpoor.

      And most importantly, the causes of poverty which do not originate from the policy-making of guys like Robert Mugabe or Hugo Chavez, are STILL NOT the product of our property system.

      So I second your question, Aeon, but I’m not holding my breath for an answer.

      • Swami Cat

        I am kind of surprised she doesn’t respond to feedback. Indeed, considering she is rehashing the earlier arguments, is she even aware of the feedback? I guess I assumed this site was more of a place for a diablog rather than a monoblog.

        Others may disagree.

  • Fritz

    I wonder if the writer has given away all of her coercively acquired property.

    • Sean II

      Of course it goes further than that. A casual glance at history tells us that man loves to kill just as much as he loves to steal. The only thing that stops him doing this on the daily is…coercion.

      So really, it’s not just our property rights which are coercive, it’s all of our rights.

      You, Fritz, are only alive because of a coercive institution that someone else had “no choice but to participate in”.

      Doesn’t that make you feel guilty?

  • Swami Cat

    You are right that I am not sympathetic to your basic argument, though I genuinely appreciate you making it, and I hope you will respond to the comments in a healthy discussion.

    That said, I notice that you did not engage the comments on the prior post you submitted, regardless of how valuable they may have been. You are indeed just reheating some of your previous argument, which the comments (imo) convincingly rebutted. Did you NOT find the counter-arguments convincing? Why? A dialogue beats a monologue….no?

    I agree completely with the earlier commenter urstoff that you are replacing clear cut issues with fuzzy philosophical fluff. I fail to see how “justice” and “duty” do the work you hope they do. They assume the person you are talking to agrees with your terms, definitions, framework and values. I suggest assuming they DON’T.

    Most people really are to some significant extent self focused, and if you want to convince them to join your bandwagon on duty and justice you are either going to have to show them what is in for them, and/or convince them to change their values and world view.

    As to property rights, I find your prior thought experiment fundamentally mistaken (as did most of the earlier commenters). The thing you are missing is that society is a cooperative affair and part of successful cooperation is having common shared rules and protocols which allow social cohesion without causing constant confusion, conflict and collisions. Brennan and Schmidtz use the analogy of traffic signals, which captures the dynamic well. Are you familiar with their analogy?

    With property, the issue is this… Who decides how property is used and who gains from the use?

    There are multiple ways to solve this dilemma. Three of the most common are:

    1). The strong decide (see chimps). The problems are well documented with this approach. Absent other conventions, this reverts to the default.

    2). The Big Kahuna decides (the BK is usually decided via 1 above). The problems here are well documented including proven issues with knowledge of time, place context and values, problems of coordination, problems of optimizing tradeoffs and problems with agency and benevolence. It does tend to be better than 1 though.

    3). Property rights with clear definitions of how to acquire, improve and transfer property using shared rules and conventions. The success of this decentralized and greatly positive sum system relative to the alternatives is pretty clear, though it too has weaknesses and situations where it does not work as well as we may like.

    You are right that once the group lands upon individual decentralized property rights as the winning convention, that individuals cannot opt out and adopt their own conventions any more than they can choose to adopt their own language or choose to go on red and stop on green. Well, they CAN do this, but it is effectively an act of disastrous and self defeating consequences absent exiting the society all together and forming a new society (where we all go on red and drive on the left!!). There are penalties to rejecting convention, and there needs to be, or the conventions themselves will be useless and we devolve back to chimp world.

    “…I do think it is a moral problem if a system of property is imposed on everyone and it leaves some people so desperately poor they don’t have enough.”

    I am not completely opposed to this argument, though I would word it quite differently. First, institutions of science and property (markets) didn’t create poverty. Impoverishment, insecurity and pain are created by nature and have been part of the human and biological condition since life emerged 3.8 billion years ago.

    Second, the rules are not really imposed. They are required to facilitate cooperative society. What isn’t required is which rules are adopted. As above, there are multiple conventions which could be adopted, and indeed every society has its own special blend of factors and conventions.

    So which rules and conventions have risen to the top over the last ten thousand years of social experimentation? Easy. Markets with decentralized property rights. Property rights are not really what is being IMPOSED. What is imposed by logic and nature is that we have shared conventions in order to facilitate social cooperation. Absent shared conventions disaster strikes and we revert back to chimp world (solitary, nasty and brutish). Property rights just happen to be the winning conventions to date.

    The countries living in poverty and squalor are not the losers in the game of free markets and property conventions. They are those NOT PLAYING THE GAME. The fundamental solution to their problem is to find ways to start playing the game, or playing it better, post haste. See China and a dozen other countries on how great the advantages are by learning from one’s neighbors.

    Now, once they join the game, you are right that some players still fail and are unable to prosper due to either their own fault or accidents and events out of their control. The benefit of free markets is that they generate enough wealth and social cooperation to fund safety nets which can protect the losers. These can be privately and/or publicly funded, but again, whichever way they are handled they are rational as effective insurance is a wise thing to build into institutions.

    And open borders, if handled well, is a fine idea too!

    • reason60

      “… once the group lands upon individual decentralized property rights as the winning convention, that individuals cannot opt out and adopt their own conventions…”

      But don’t you think property rights have flexible and malleable boundaries? Meaning they can be strengthened or weakened, broadened or narrowed, by the very same group that adopted them in the first place?

      • Swami Cat

        Yes. Yes I do. Indeed conventions need some process (other conventions?) on how to go about adapting these conventions to changing conditions.

  • Jameson Graber

    I find it surprising that someone would say it’s “coercive property rules” that “trap people in conditions of extreme poverty,” when all the experts I’ve heard seem to suggest that it’s the opposite: not enough enforcement of property rights (or indeed of any basic rights) is what traps people in poverty.

    I do agree about borders, though.

    • martinbrock

      Closed borders are part of the property system.

      • Jameson Graber

        Is there more to it than that?

        • martinbrock

          I’m not sure what Jessica means by “coercive property system”, but property systems are coercive and can be either productive or counterproductive. Libertarians too often take the virtue of anything labeled “property” for granted.

    • Sean II

      So, just to be clear:

      1) You think property rights are the solution to poverty, which is why…

      2) You favor abolishing any limit to the inflow of people who don’t believe in property rights, into those few places on Earth where such rights have managed precariously to take hold.

      What could possibly go wrong?

      • Jameson Graber

        Everyone believes in property rights, at least when it comes to their own property. And I think most people can be made to agree to respect the property rights of others, as long as they see that doing so makes them part of a system that works.

        I never said or thought that nothing could go wrong. There are all kinds of risks that we take by respecting people’s freedom. By respecting freedom of speech, for example, we allow people to spread of all sorts of bad ideas. Does that mean we should give up the right to free speech?

        Besides, I see no evidence that our economic system is under a greater threat from immigrants than from people born in our own country. Most people are very ignorant about economics. This is a general problem for democracy. I don’t see how immigration exacerbates the problem. Immigrants into the West aren’t the ones coming up with ideas like socialism.

        • Sean II

          “Most people are very ignorant about economics…I don’t see how immigration exacerbates the problem.”

          You don’t’ see how the people of, say, Venezuela and Angola could be more economically ignorant than the people of, say, Oregon and Colorado? Or even just more dangerous in their ignorance?

          That seems impossible to you? You think we could pull an electoral version of the Taster’s Choice test and swap out the people of Angola for those of Colorado, without much difference in the political results? Seriously? You think that?

          Here’s what you’re missing:

          The voters in Oregon and Colorado don’t understand econ’ very well. True enough. When gas prices go up, they think it’s just because some nefarious goblins decided to mess with them. So you’re almost right, because that stupid belief really is similar in kind to the stupid folk economics you’ll find in Venezuela and Angola.

          But here’s the difference: if some demagogue promised to stabilize gas prices by seizing power, or by liquidating the middlemen who trade oil, the Coloradans and the Oregonians would say “Whoa, no need for all that. We were just getting our gripe on. Gimme a Slim Jim and put $50 on pump #4.”

          The other guys…they actually start nationalizing shit and killing people. Not a small difference.

          • Jameson Graber

            You’re ignoring institutions. The US already has a liberal democratic Constitution and a long history of capitalism. Immigrants can and have been assimilated (by the millions) into this system. Part of it, as I said, is that people will see that it works, because it does work. People won’t want to break something that’s making them richer. Venezuela, on the other hand, doesn’t have the same well established institutions.

            Part of a good immigration policy may very well include a plan of assimilation. Of course, we don’t do a very good job of “assimilating” citizens born in our own country (explaining where our institutions came from and why they work) so there would be a lot of work to be done on that front.

            Still, my point here is that individuals are greatly shaped by the institutions in which they participate. If a bunch of Venezuelans voluntarily decide to leave Venezuela in order to come to the US, chances are they’ll not only be favorable to US institutions, but their behavior will be shaped by them.

            Now for empirical data, here. The studies I’ve seen from the Cato Institute on this subject show that, in fact, immigrants’ political attitudes (including those of illegal immigrants) do not significantly differ from those of native born citizens in the US. So I want to know what evidence there is that letting more people in would change that balance.

          • Sean II

            1) “You’re ignoring institutions. The US already has a liberal democratic Constitution and a long history of capitalism.”

            On the contrary, you’re ignoring institutions, by pretending they just fall from the sky or sprout up at random, independent of culture, demography, religion, etc.

            I’m merely acknowledging the obvious: there’s probably a reason why some little clusters of nations end up with one set of institutions, while others quite stubbornly end up with a different set. On my side I have an excellent sample size: in all of history, no non-Western nation has ever invented a free society, and only in Asia have such societies been more or less successfully transplanted. (Even Israel, your best hope for an exception to that rule, turns out to derive its character from a founder group of European ancestry.)

            Your argument, meanwhile, is maddeningly circular: “The West is liberal because it has liberal institutions. Why? Well, because they work. But why isn’t Nigeria liberal? Oh, well because it never developed liberal institutions. Why not? Institutions, of course. But how do we know if a country has strong enough institutions? Well if they work, and the country remains liberal, that means the institutions were strong enough; if not, not.”

            Weak sauce my friend, made even weaker by the fact that we have several cases – Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Venezuela, Pakistan, Iraq already, any minute now South Africa – in which nations squandered a decent start by tearing down liberal or partially liberal institutions that were transplanted or loaned to them.

            2) “Part of a good immigration policy may very well include a plan of assimilation.”

            Serious problem for you: the other faction in Western politics which wants open borders – the larger faction – namely left wing statists, is explicitly against assimilation. Their plan, which they take no trouble to disguise, is to open the borders to new populations in the hope that they will NOT assimilate. It’s only diversity, after all, if they groups stay different.

            I’m curious to know what makes you think assimilation will win? It isn’t winning in the suburbs of Paris, nor in northern England.

            So let me rephrase the question: what makes you so sure assimilation will win, that you’re willing to bet the future of liberalism on it, without a hedge? Because that’s mad.

            3) “Now for empirical data, here. The studies I’ve seen from the Cato Institute on this subject show that, in fact, immigrants’ political attitudes…”

            Call me sentimental, but when faced with a conflict between survey results and revealed behavior, I like to go with revealed behavior.

            But if that’s not your thing, perhaps you’re a fan of minimally honest sampling, which in this case mean we don’t get to extrapolate from A [the small but highly enterprising population who made it across a closed border, by dint of special skill or special will] to B [the large and far less selective population who would come across a open border, requiring neither].

            4) “…do not significantly differ from those of native born citizens in the US.”

            Finally, this is just a flat lie, willfully ignorant of American politics. Here’s why:

            It may be true that the typical immigrant under present conditions is a centre-left Democrat, but that’s precisely the danger: America is only just barely held together by the remains of a duopoly competition between two parties. Nothing but their rivalry (and that not often enough) keeps the state from growing even faster. For an example of what happens when the U.S. system collapses into one party rule, see: California.

            Immigration would obviously worsen that problem. Indeed, it would quickly do so on a national level by toppling Texas into the Democratic orbit. Even if that only lasted a decade or two, it would be time enough for a New New Deal: single-payer health care, universal pre-k, a federal minimum wage, and who knows what other statists measures.

            Besides, to the extent that there are any conservative values among Hispanic immigrants (by far the largest groups) THEY ARE THE WRONG ONES. The populist ones, the socially conservative ones. When Mexicans shows up in think tank polls as “Republican leaning”, it’s not because he believes in a balanced federal budget and the right of contract. It’s because he hates abortion. That kind of “moderation” isn’t doing you and I and liberty any good.

            In other words, Cato is full of shit here, and probably knows it.

          • Jameson Graber

            You say a lot of things here without anything to back it up, so I’ll only respond to the part about institutions. The argument is not circular. You need to read more Hayek. Institutions don’t develop because of the majority opinion of today’s generation. They develop largely as the result of a series of conflicts over power, and largely as the result of intellectuals who contribute theoretical advances. Once those institutions are in place, they don’t need to be rebuilt every generation.

            It was not because the majority of white people were ever more virtuous or intelligent than the rest of the world that Western civilization developed the best institutions. It happened for many complex reasons which can’t be and don’t need to be reproduced in every generation in order to maintain those institutions.

            As for the rest, if your political philosophy rests on the hopes that you can keep your country white enough that support for libertarian views won’t fade, then your moral vision of the world is simply incompatible with mine. For my part, I don’t think using force to keep people from living and working in the US is any more justified than dropping bombs on innocent civilians to fight the war on terror.

          • Sean II

            Remind me: where was it exactly that Hayek said liberal institutions can survive the collapse or displacement of their underlying culture?

            Was it in The Road to Everything’s Fine? Or was it in the Unbreakable Constitution of Liberty? Maybe it was in Law, Legislation, and Hey Whatever, Two Out of Three Ain’t Bad?

            You’d think I might remember where one of our greatest philosophers took such an interesting and counter-intuitive position, but nope.

            You gotta help me out there. You know, since you’re suddenly such a stickler for “backing things up”, I’m sure you’ll have no trouble coming up with a cite.

            May I suggest you look up that same sleeve from which you clumsily dropped the race card just now. Seems like a logical place to start.

          • Jameson Graber

            Again, how would the underlying culture collapse or be “displaced”? The race card seems to be perfectly appropriate here, because I’m pretty sure you’re a racist. Otherwise, how would adding people of a different color skin suddenly cause an economic system to collapse? Or do only white people understand how to survive in a free enterprise system?

          • Sean II

            See that’s just lazy. Right here in this very thread, twice in fact, I’ve noted that liberal market societies can now be found in places with primarily European AND Asian demographic bases.

            True, I also mentioned that such societies cannot be found anywhere else, but since that’s a plain and obvious fact, I’m not sure how it can be racist to say so. (Or am I talking to someone who thinks facts are capable of being racist?)

            Besides, as I said in some other thread awhile back, there are indeed sub-groups among Europeans who don’t seem fit to hack it when it comes to liberalism and market societies. Russians, for example. They drink from the cup of statism like it was full of booze! Not a group you’d want to take in by the tens of millions. There is just no way they could fail, in such numbers, to bring a bit of that tendency with them.

            Now this point is important JG: the fact that we don’t know WHY Russians and liberal market societies seem not to mix, is not a reason to pretend we don’t know THAT. I can’t stress this enough. If we’re serious about gathering knowledge of the world, we have to be able to discuss the THATs independently of the WHYs. We can’t run around insisting that this particular THAT (a given group difference) can never be mentioned without being hastily linked to a reassuring WHY (don’t panic folks, it’s all nurture).

            An intelligent and educated person should be able to say “Russians have a hard time with freedom”. He should be able to say “There are no pygmy scientists”. Because these things are true, and that’s reason enough to keep them among the permissible topics of conversation.

            But it makes you uncomfortable to say things like that, doesn’t it?

            And by the way, where’s my Hayek cite?

          • Jameson Graber

            Where’s your Hayek cite for what? My appeal to Hayek was to make an argument about institutions. Your argument only makes sense if you think that economic institutions thrive because of customs held by the majority of a certain people, but if you follow the arguments of Hayek, that’s not how it works.

            If you want to a particular quote from Hayek on immigration, I just Googled it and found this (the context is Great Britain): “While I look forward, as an ultimate ideal, to a state of affairs in which national boundaries have ceased to be obstacles to the free movement of men, I believe that within any period with which we can now be concerned, any attempt to realize it would lead to a revival of strong nationalist sentiments.” So I’ll give you that one.

            By the way, I’ve never said that I expected my ideas on immigration to become a reality any time soon. The left is not in favor of open borders, whatever you seem to think, and never will be–its economic vision is totally inconsistent with free immigration. And the right isn’t either, for reasons more to do with the nationalism Hayek mentioned. So I’m pretty pessimistic about open borders ever succeeding in my lifetime.

            As for the “that” and the “why,” I disagree with you 100% on that one. If what you care about is stating a fact for the sake of stating a fact, then I can’t disagree with you, but what I care about is determining the right thing to do. The reason why Russians don’t seem to be able to build a free society is, for me, the whole question, not only when I’m talking about Russians immigrating to the West but also because I would hope that one day Russia itself could be reformed. And someday my own country might just forget how to be free (it could be happening now) and it would be nice to know what contributes to that.

            And as for how the law should work, freedom is based on equal justice for all individuals. The idea that the government could say, “You’re Russian, we’re going to treat your case differently,” is antithetical to freedom. So just because it is true that Russians as a group don’t seem to have as much affinity in the present age for freedom, that doesn’t justify the government telling me I can’t hire a Russian, or can’t rent my apartment to a Russian. Equal justice means blind justice.

          • Sean II

            “Your argument only makes sense if you think that economic institutions thrive because of customs held by the majority of a certain people, but if you follow the arguments of Hayek, that’s not how it works.

            That’s what you’re supposed to find a cite for – some case where Hayek says that institutions can exist independently of a culture compatible with them.

            I notice you haven’t come up with one.

            I know Hayek didn’t say anything like that, because he wasn’t an idiot.

            You seem to think otherwise. Prove it.

            A Hayek quote in favor of open borders, while nice and all, is non-responsive to this point.

            On the other point – this one: “As for the “that” and the “why,” I disagree with you 100% on that one” – here’s something to consider:

            If you can’t say something like “there are no pygmy scientists”, if you can’t start with that empirical fact before moving on to seek explanations, then you’re not studying the world. You’re just tubthumping for a cause.

            Indeed. Look what happened here. I pointed out that Russians as a group seem to have a hard time with freedom. They get a little dose of it, they wince, and fall back into their old habits.

            You respond by saying that to admit this is “antithetical to freedom”.

            You don’t say it’s false. You certainly don’t have any evidence to refute it.

            You say “antithetical to freedom”, which of course is a naked case of the appeal to consequences fallacy. You don’t like the implications of Russian being bad at freedom. You don’t like what it does to your other ideas and beliefs.

            So…you refuse to accept it, though yet it remains true.

            You can’t see the problem with this? You can’t see how this attitude might lead you into ignorance?

            Because this attitude entails ignorance. To say you reject an empirical fact because it is antithetical to freedom is a pledge to remain ignorant whenever your ideology requires.

            Is that really how you want to live?

          • Jameson Graber

            “where Hayek says that institutions can exist independently of a culture compatible with them.”

            But that’s not what I’m saying. What you seem to think is that culture is equivalent to what a majority of people currently think about political issues. That’s not correct. And the majority opinion certainly isn’t how institutions get formed. If you don’t get that, you haven’t read The Constitution of Liberty, or The Fatal Conceit for that matter. Cultural evolution is not a product of majority opinion.

            If you want me to see what’s wrong with what I’m saying, you might try to start by understanding what I’m saying, and while you’re at it maybe try to understand what Hayek said (which you apparently think you’ve read).

          • Sean II

            So you can’t come up with anything?

            You’ve doubled down on your insistence that Hayek said X, but you can’t manage to dig up a responsive passage to show him saying X?

            Pretty uninspiring.

            Perhaps this will break the deadlock: Hayek most certainly does talk about culture as something that was subject to evolutionary pressure, operating by trial and error, sharing some characteristics with group selection*, and all that.

            You seem to have taken this valid starting point, then given Hayek some oddball reading where institutions (once established) are impervious to culture, where culture moves ahead teleologically, never going backwards, and most crazily, where majority opinion and culture have little to do with each other.

            You’re wrong. That reading is wrong, and this is almost certainly why you cannot find a passage to support it.

            * a minor mistake on his part, in any case.

          • Jameson Graber

            OK, dude, once I get home from my travels and have the books right in front of me, I’ll try to give you some actual quotes. In the meantime, you should try reading for yourself through the Constitution of Liberty, specifically where Hayek talks about how the English came about the discovery of liberty. He illustrates how it was a series of political conflicts, not any intentional movement toward liberty, that created the institutions which solidified English liberty. In other words, it was because the English had (in some sense accidentally) created the Magna Carta that they learned liberty, not the other way around. That explains why, when he talks about the American Constitution, he takes the essentially Burkean position that the American revolution was a matter of preserving a tradition, not creating something radically new. And where do traditions come from? They are not biologically inherited. They are learned. They are taught through institutions.

            That is what I’m saying. As for what you are saying, this nonsense is intolerable: “You seem to have taken this valid starting point, then given Hayek some oddball reading where institutions (once established) are impervious to culture, where culture moves ahead teleologically, never going backwards, and most crazily, where majority opinion and culture have little to do with each other.” If that’s what you think I’m saying, you need to learn to read.

            So with that, here’s where we stand. I’ve made reference to the Cato Institute’s research which shows that immigrants’ political attitudes aren’t all that different from natural born citizens’ (actually you should be more worried about the young than about immigrants, they’re way more statist). I’ve also pointed out that institutions and learned traditions are what counts, not biologically determined traits. That blows a pretty gaping hole in your argument that Russians, or Venezuelans, or whoever, simply can’t seem to get this liberty stuff right. The whole history of the USA belies your opinion. Once the institutions are in place, millions of people can be taught to adapt to them and be successful.

            You, on the other hand, have brought zero evidence for your racist opinion, and you have continually mischaracterized my opinions, demonstrating that you never seriously read what I wrote. As a result, I have zero respect for you, and I think it’s rather pathetic that someone with already way out of the mainstream opinions (news flash: any form of libertarianism is considered radical by most Americans) would try to badger me about how I’m being too utopian. If you feel somehow justified in your beliefs, I guess that’s your business. As for me, I just think you’re an ugly person, and I would really appreciate it if you stopped bothering the world with your racist beliefs.

          • Sean II

            Wow, you really lost your shit there. Impressive.

          • HermanStone

            I was just listening to a podcast with Eric Mack talking about Law, Legislation and Liberty, and I remembered your “two out of three ain’t bad” comment. Cracked up for a good few minutes. Such a great line.

          • Les Kyle Nearhood

            which makes you an unhinged extremist

          • matt

            Systematically employing force against peaceful people who want to come and work is a huge strike against immigration restrictions from a liberty perspective. From a utilitarian perspective, it may be an ever bigger strike given the huge gains that would come from opening up the borders. That’s not to say there’s no conceivable arguments that could work here (you have presented some) but I don’t understand why you aren’t saying something along the lines of “There are immensely powerful arguments on libertarian grounds that argue in favor of open borders.” In other words, at least acknowledge it’s not black and white like, saying, ending the drug war or repealing the ‘Affordable’ Care Act.

            I would say this and it might seem cheap but I really don’t think it is. If fighting the expansion of the welfare state justifies keeping people out, why would it not justify deporting voters with reliably and severely bad statist preferences? I mean if we deported a lot of poor blacks and a lot of poor whites (groups who tend to be fairly statist across the board) we might have a better shot at fighting statism. Would you consider that?

          • Sean II

            No, because the amount of force required to deport people who are already here is far greater than the amount required to deter people who haven’t yet thought of making the trip.

            Open border zealots like to pretend quantity doesn’t matter, but clearly it does.

            It’s one thing to look the other way at a steady trickle of enterprising border jumpers. I’m all for that.

            But it’s quite another thing to say “open the gates, and fire up the searchlights, tonight we’re waiving the cover charge and anything goes!”

            If nothing else, the first strategy is clearly superior because it allows TIME to stop, study, and asses along the way. We can absorb a few people, see how things are going, decide what to do next, etc.

            The latter strategy is pure madness, because if the zealots turn out to be wrong, what they will have done can never be undone.

            Which I guess is what being a zealot is all about, but fuck that. We’re talking about the fate of the world here. We should not be playing all in on a bet like this.

          • matt

            The first statement is profoundly odd. You can’t judge force in these terms. By this logic, we could pass a law imposing the death penalty for any drug related offense, including possession and say “The war on drugs involves almost no force. People are deterred.” Saying to people “If you come without authorization we are going to throw you in a cage and then ship you back” is force.
            I see these concerns. I’m not a PC type of person so I have no issue granting their legitimacy. What I’m saying is that it’s not completely black and white and that libertarians have got to be disgusted with a lot of the statist economically illiterate nonsense we hear opposing open borders

          • Sean II

            Profoundly odd?

            Answer a simple question for me Matt. Tell me if you can see the difference between the amount of force used in these two scenarios:

            Case 1: You are drinking in a club. A bouncer comes over and grabs you by the arm, yanking you from your barstool. So fast, you end up leaving your phone behind. He roughly escorts you to the door and gives you the customary shove-to-pavement.

            Case 2: You are passing by a club, with only a half-formed intention to enter. Before you can say anything, the bouncer barks at you “Sorry, bro. We’re at capacity”. You shrug and keep walking.

            See that difference? See how one is much more violent than the other?

          • matt

            The analogy, with all due respect, is really bad. A private club has every right to prohibit me from entering. It has every right to throw me out (with as little force as possible of course) if I entered without permission. A better analogy would be, say, NY saying no one from Alabama could come because Alabama is the hick capital. Some people from Alabama come anyway. When New York authorities find them they throw them in a cage and then send ’em back to Alabama. Only a minority of Alabamans come though. Most just stay in Alabama. The threat of being thrown in a cage and sent back is enough to deter them. I suppose you could say more force is being employed against the Alabamans who are in NY then the ones who never come but it seems pretty bad either way right?

          • Sean II

            I’m sorry. I didn’t catch your response. Which scenario involves more violence:

            1) Being ejected bodily from a club you’re already in, or

            2) Being told you can’t enter a club while you’re still outside of it.

            Please note: both cases involve a private club, so the analogy works just fine. We’re comparing private to private. Any distinction you hold (I hold it too) between public and private entities exists outside of this analogy.

            Your simple to task is to say whether you believe the level of violence involved in each case is identical, or if not, which one is greater.

            Can you do that?

          • matt

            It is both obvious and uninteresting that the actual of violence constitutes a greater employment of force than the threat of violence. What I’m interested in is why that’s morally relevant. If there is a guy who says “Walk by my house and I’ll break your legs and 99.9 percent of people on opposite side of the street never walk by it while maybe 10 percent of people on his side of the street do walk by it and he breaks their legs… well I suppose you can say greater force is being used against the people on his side of the street but does that mean that the people on the other side of the street have been less wronged? Is the threat of violence when one is not violating or threatening to violate one’s rights really less bad than its actual use?

          • Sean II

            “What I’m interested in is why that’s morally relevant.”

            Because you asked me, that’s why.

            Because you asked me why I don’t mind telling some would-be immigrant in Senegal not to come here, while I’m unwilling to deport even the worst voter in America.

            And that’s the answer: because the former is less violent than the latter. A lot less.

            And because, yes, actual violence inflicted on an actual person is a whole lot worse than potential violence.

            If you think otherwise, let me suggest a trip to your local bar at closing time. Find the biggest, drunkest goon in the place and provoke him. Once they release your from post-trauma observation, please come back and tell me how that experience was really no different from what happens when the government of New Zealand intimidates you into not leasing a condo.

          • matt

            Let me just accept your premise for a second. Say huge numbers of people from Senegal and the like came here thinking “Screw it. I’d rather risk the chance of being violently thrown in a cage than stay in this country.” Say, on the other hand, that huge numbers of would be deported Americans would just give in and resist. In this scenario, would you say deportation is preferable to closed borders since enforcing closed borders would require far more violence?

          • Sean II

            Still no. If huge numbers of America’s worst voters stepped forward and offered to deport themselves, they’d probably be willing to accept disenfranchisement first*. A far less invasive option. I’d go with that.

            Or better yet, since there aren’t that many libertarians, maybe we should be the ones who move. Then we can just tell those bad voters to leave us alone after we set up a little homeland in New Hampshire or whatever.

            * Both scenarios are fanciful, of course, but I’m playing along.

          • matt

            I mean New Hampshire’s too cold. Las Vegas is where it should be at.

          • Harry Heller

            That is absolutely FALSE! You know nothing about electoral demographics (apparently, neither does CATO).

        • Harry Heller

          Idiotic statement in the extreme! Why don’t you consider the demographics of immigration set against electoral demographics? I’ll make it simple: 98% of immigrants are nonwhite, and nonwhites vote, collectively on average, approx. 80% Democrat – and however inadequate the GOP has proven itself to be in defending liberty, only a rank moron would claim they are worse than Democrats. Therefore, more immigrants = more Democrat voters = more socialism. WHY don’t you libertarians EVER get this???!! (BTW, the history of California politics post-1965 completely bears out the assertion that immigrants today (not necessarily considered in some philosophical abstract account) increase socialism.)

  • martinbrock

    Unfortunately, the least productive and most coercive property systems are within the poorest nations and often impede the poor from escaping.

  • DST

    I don’t see how borders closed to migration can be nearly as detrimental in this regard as borders closed to trade. I would imagine that if half of Haitians immigrated to the US today, in twenty years there would be as many poor people in Haiti as there would have been had such a mass immigration not occurred. If, on the other hand, Haiti adopted a more libertarian government and all other nations dropped import restrictions on Haitian goods, then Haitians would be far richer twenty years from now than if such measures hadn’t been taken.

    The source of poverty isn’t lack of mobility, it’s backward economic policies put in place by both rich and poor countries. Mass immigration doesn’t solve poverty, it just allows the underlying causes of that poverty to fester indefinitely.

    • Sean II

      “I would imagine that if half of Haitians immigrated to the US today, in twenty years there would be as many poor people in Haiti as there would have been had such a mass immigration not occurred.”

      And don’t forget: the roughly 5 million Haitians who arrived here would not in fact escape poverty by the preferred method of getting jobs, saving money, raising future law partners, etc.

      Most of them would be priced out of our labor market by minimum wage laws, or otherwise impeded by licensing, entry barriers, etc. They would thus fall back on state assistance, concentrate in ghettos, and generally create the social conditions HBO will need when it decides to remake The Wire in 2050 (setting: Mobile, Alabama*).

      This should not be hard to understand, and it should certainly not elude smart people like Bryan Caplan, but there is an order of operations to libertarian reform. Some parts of the state need to be dismantled first, others later, and some last.

      Open borders are a terrible place to start. One very good clue we have to this fact: in the U.S. no one supports open borders EXCEPT radical libertarians and radical statists. If those libertarians aren’t asking themselves why the statists favor this allegedly liberal policy, they’re fools.

      * Because it has docks.

      • Swami Cat

        As usual, I think Sean is making an excellent argument. The fact that he does it in an interesting way is just icing on the cake.

        I am not aware of any convincing counter argument to his concerns.

  • Jerome Bigge

    Consider where China’s economy would be today if China couldn’t export hundreds of billions of dollars worth of manufactured goods to the USA? Without these exports, the standard of living of most Chinese people would be far lower than it is. Even though the government of China is “Marxist”, it saw the benefits of trade with the developed countries of the world. The same is true of a lesser extent with India. And of course the economies of Mexico and even Canada would be less than they are. Also the American consumer benefits from the lower prices possible through imports from outside the USA. The only possible “negative” to this is that the old time “unionized factory (and foundry) jobs” of the past are now fewer than before. Along with the requirement today of more education than was necessary in the past when “foreign competition” didn’t exist to the extent that it does today.

  • reason60

    Anomaly’s post wasn’t exactly a straw man, but just a case of an easily agreeable rebuttal to a pretty weak argument.

    His conclusion- “It’s just to say that massive wealth disparities are not always caused by injustice.” Is refuting an argument that pretty much no one makes (Always caused by injustice? Always?)
    There is actually a lot to agree with- the notion that we don’t have a system of solving poverty either at the small scale or large is certainly borne out by empirical observation.
    And the notion that a lot of the poverty – again, at all scales- is self-inflicted is also shown easily by observation.

    But what really causes these sorts of discussions to go sideways is the search for blame and faultfinding.
    Lets narrow the discussion down to the ordinary poor and homeless we see everyday. Some could plausibly be viewed as victims of an unjust economic system, while others can certainly be seen as the result of bad choices.

    But what is our goal in this? Are we really looking for a solution? Or just trying valiantly to look for an excuse?

    I sense in most discussions of poverty whether by the left or right, that poverty is a problem that can be fixed, meaning it can be eliminated once and for all, if we only applied the correct legal and economic structure. Or at the very least, reduced to insignificance.

    I don’t think this is just modernist naiveté borne out of hubristic belief in our own abilities. Poverty is disturbing and frightening to us. The idea that lives can fail, regardless of our best efforts is unsettling. Its like how veterans recount how their deepest fear wasn’t that they would be too weak or slow- its that death is random and unfair, that even the best soldier can be killed without ever even having a chance to defend himself.

    This is why, I think, that societies do their best to make poverty invisible, to sweep it away out of sight. We don’t like being reminded that within every nation, every city, every neighborhood, every family, there will be failure- a person who somehow can’t hold a job, becomes a drunk, or mentally ill, or just colossally bad at managing his affairs.

    Which gets to the Bleeding Heart aspect of this- the concept of solidarity with others carries this idea inside it, that we become better, more authentic people when we embrace our failed brethren and acknowledge the Sysphean task of assisting them, even when the end result may be futile.

    So in the end, it isn’t unjust for poverty to exist- its only unjust for us to ignore it.

  • M Lister

    “As far as I know, Pogge doesn’t mention the global system of borders in his argument for eradicating systemic poverty”

    Pogge discusses borders (and argues that opening them isn’t as likely to help global poverty as open-borders advocates think) in his paper, ‘Migration and Poverty’, available in Goodin and Pettit (eds.), Contemporary Political Philosophy: An Antholgy, 2nd ed. (Wiley-Blackwell, 2005), among other places. I think that Pogge is probably at least somewhat off both on the plausibility of other options and on the how much more immigration would help, but it’s a useful and interesting article. (The “Trillions of dollars” arguments for open borders mostly assume very implausible levels of movement by people to the place where they would get the highest returns for their labor, often assuming away the normal costs of moving, too. We don’t have that even w/in countries, where there is free movement and much lower barriers due to culture, language, etc., so it’s pretty safe to say that they are not plausible accounts, even if there would be large, but much smaller, gains possible.)

  • SGCleveland

    “But one thing is clear, poorer people are poorer because of the border system.”

    Certainly they are poorer than they would otherwise be if borders were more open, but they are certainly not *actively* getting poorer because of the border system. This is analogous to poor people in a country being poorer than if that country had a different economic policy, but not actually poorer than they were in the past.

    And moreover, if a group of people decide to close off their community from others’ immigration, that cannot be immoral. It can be bad policy, but people have a right to keep to themselves. To suggest they don’t is anathema to any concept of individual property or a right of association.

    I agree that we could argue on utilitarian/consequentialist grounds that we should attempt to improve impoverished areas, but as a matter of justice, the argument doesn’t hold up. We can agree that it’s not “fair” for people to be born in places with bad institutions are shut out of the global marketplace, but it’s also not “fair” to hold people who were born in good locations responsible for their situation any more than we hold poor people responsible for theirs. Yes, redistribution can be a defensible policy, but trying to create a moral justification for it requires a rejection of libertarian morality of individual rights and “negative” liberty.

    • AP²

      Having a right and being immoral is not contradictory – is defending genocide not immoral, just because it’s protected speech? Is condemning it an anti-libertarian position?

      One can defend that a population has a right to close borders, and also that it’s immoral to do so.

      • SGCleveland

        I suppose this is correct. To be more precise, I meant that not only does a society have a right to exclude others, but it’s perfectly moral to do so, unlike promoting genocide. A group of hardcore left-wing Californians should be free to start a city-state where anyone who has shopped at Walmart is banned from entering. Yes, it’s bad economic policy, but perfectly moral because they are allowed to determine who they would like or not like to interact with.

  • Sean II

    answer any questions we might have about the justice of Rob’s self defense?

    I can only think of one reason, which boils down to rich guilt. Maybe Rob feels bad for being born with the two-marshmallow mind, when he knows that many other poor souls were not. Maybe this causes him to feel a special sympathy for his would-be attacker, Fry. There but for the grace of high IQ and low time preference goes he.

    Okay fine, if that’s your thing. But this doesn’t get us anywhere near the idea that Rob used coercion first, or that Rob’s use of coercion requires justification , while Fry’s use of it does not.

    Fry’s use of coercion clearly came first, and clearly occasioned Rob’s. And don’t we usually say in such case that the the prior thing caused the later thing?

    And isn’t another way of saying that: “The prior thing explains – i.e. justifies – the later thing?”

  • Harry Heller

    Immigration today is nothing more than the characteristic form of imperialism in our time. Do, say, Americans (I mean actual citizens, especially ones of familial long-standing) not have a property right in their nation, at least in its public spaces? My family has been building the USA since colonial times. That includes service in wars, donations to charities and civic groups – and vast amounts in (coercive) taxes paid, at least over the 20th century. Surely my family has a greater claim (in terms of libertarian moral theory) on the USA than some foreigner who simply wants to move here? What has he contributed to the USA?

    Note I speak foundationally. Pragmatically, immigration = the “browning of America” = the coming era of Democrat domination (cf. “majority-minority” CA: not a single statewide elected Republican, let alone free market libertarian) = the destruction of historic, really existing American liberty. Obama, one of the most anti-libertarian Presidents ever, simply would not have been elected (ceteris paribus) had Reagan the so-called “conservative” declined to sign his Big Government Illegal Alien Amnesty in 1986. Just do the electoral math.

    Anyway, there is a perpetual, natural right to EMIGRATE; there is no corollary right to IMMIGRATE. If I am in your home, I always have a right to leave (acc. to libertarian ethics). But would any libertarian say I have a right to enter (like a burglar), even if the property owner forbids it??!! What if Americans do not want foreigners trespassing on their private-wealth-paid-for public property, eg, streets? Or what if we do not wish to share our citizenship (an already problematic concept for a true libertarian) with foreigners? Would Flanigan force us, via statist coercion, to allow unwanted foreigners to use our streets? Is THAT “libertarianism”?!?

    As to the more basic issue of the post wrt global wealth inequality [GWI], No, it is not unjust. Obviously Flanigan understands neither economics nor psychometrics. GWI is a function of 1) wide disparities in interracial and even interethnic IQ levels, combined with 2) widely unequal levels of lawfulness, civic harmony, and state instantiation of and respect for private property rights (a third issue is disparities in valuable resource allotments across the nations – favorable harbors for ocean trade, relative insulation from military security or terrorism threats, oil and natural gas, etc – but this actually turns out to be less important than modal IQ and capitalist “depth”: cf. Hong Kong, Singapore, Denmark, even ‘dirigiste’ France). The richer countries are not rich because of the poverty of the poorer ones. The suggestion is pure Marxian nonsense! Have you not read Mises or Hayek or Peter Bauer, etc???!! Even the less consistent Milton Friedman or James Buchanan would have scoffed at such an assertion.

    If this type of post is what passes for “BHL” analysis, might I suggest you all go back and re-learn your Mises, Rothbard, Hoppe, etc. I can’t see where BHL is anything other than an ongoing act of intellectual devolution.

  • matt

    Leftists say libertarians are cruel because we (well some of us) oppose using coercion to take money from Peter to give it to Paul, even in desperate circumstances. Immigration restrictions are much worse though. They involve Paul’s government using force to prevent Peter from making money for himself. I say we make open borders our big challenge to the left. If they don’t believe in freedom of movement then all their talk about caring for the poor is just that.

    • Harry Heller

      So we should destroy what little is left of American liberty in order to further your immoral and bizarre ideological agenda? Read my comment below. “Open borders” has NOTHING to do with LIBERTY. Open borders is simply a form of STATE-sanctioned imperialism directed against the domestic population. Ever heard of “freedom of association” – which implies a corollary “freedom of DIS-association”? What if Americans don’t want their public thoroughfares filled with aliens of one type or another? Why is their liberty to decide who uses their (public) property (eg, streets) not to be respected?

      Prof. Hans Hoppe already exploded these notions decades ago. “Open borders” can only apply when there are literally no public borders because there is no State at all. The State itself is incompatible with libertarianism. Unfortunately, it exists; therefore who shall control it is a real, “live”, and inescapably moral and functional issue. Maybe you choose to be colonized by non-Americans, but I, and I hazard most Americans, would prefer to remain SOVEREIGN and therefore (somewhat) FREE.

      Immigration = INVASION; “open borders” = NATIONAL SUICIDE.

      • urstoff

        Hopefully Colorado will start restricting immigration from other states soon. Doing otherwise would be STATE SUICIDE.

        • Sean II

          Yes, that’s the spirit. Pretend there’s no difference between immigration from East Wyoming and immigration from East Waziristan.

          How could there be? People are people, after all.

  • Les Kyle Nearhood

    So let me get this right, we have to have guaranteed income AND open borders ? Not connected with reality are you ?

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  • Mortado

    What a garbage article. Using the same logic you use to justify a UBI, you could justify any sort of wealth redistribution.

    “I do think it is a moral problem if a system of property is imposed on
    everyone and it leaves some people so desperately poor they don’t have enough.”

    Private property and markets have done nothing but drastically reduce poverty. Dire poverty where people struggle to procure even the basic essentials is pretty much the default state of mankind. Prior to the implementation of our current property system, the comfortable standards of living we have now were unimaginable. It’s totally erroneous to blame extreme poverty on private property as those people struggling now are mostly found in areas where modern notions of private property either are only just emerging or have yet to fully been enshrined in law. Also, it’s entirely possible to be a radical libertarian and still oppose open immigration, as Hoppe and Rothbard prove.

  • Bruce Johnston

    Property systems can be coercive, even if the people in them are not trying to coerce anyone. We deal with this all the time in my corner of the world, where many people still farm at least part time. Here is an example: suppose a five acre field comes open on the market. Say you are a small farmer who could really benefit from that field to feed yourself, because you don’t have any. I am going to tell you right now that you are probably not going to get that land unless you are independently wealthy or are kin to the owner. The guy with a lot of money is going to get it. Now you have few option other than to get a job and sell your labor. This repeats itself endlessly. You can take care of yourself. But the system of property won’t let you because everything is owned, in many cases as an ‘investment’. Property systems are very coercive to people who have none, or little.

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