Archive for the ‘current events’ Category
You see the occasional article about how we are now in a “libertarian moment” or that the GOP has been captured by libertarians. It is true that libertarians are getting more publicity than before, but it truly hard to argue that libertarianism – a consistent demand that the state scale back across the board – is actually here. For example, in the Real Clear Politics average of presidential primary polls, Rand Paul, the most libertarian candidate, has a huge 2% of support from GOP voters. Gary Johnson, the libertarian GOP former governor of New Mexico, could barely register support above the margin of error of polling, also gaining 2%. Ron Paul has done the best with an enormous 8% of polling in 2008 – and he ran against only two other people! And of course, the Libertarian Party itself has done very poorly at the polls and has shown no ability to pull a significant number of GOP votes.
Why does the media periodically report that libertarians are having a “moment?” Why does Salon think that libertarians run America? Three hypotheses: (a) Republican voters and politicians conveniently co-opt anti-state rhetoric when it suits them, even if they clearly do not have libertarian sympathies; (b) Some libertarians, like Ron Paul, are charismatic and have more media presence than the average GOP politician; and (c) libertarians are disproportionately drawn to the GOP due to demographic or cultural factors. An alternative version of (c) is that the GOP is a coalition of high-SES groups who have populist grievances, which would attract libertarians. My hunch is that (a) and (c) reinforce each other, while (b) has little explanatory power. Add your own thoughts in the comments.
In August and September, the Open Borders group sponsored a contest for a No Deportation logo. Here is the winner, submitted by Stefan from Austria. You have permission to re-post it. If you are against deportations, forced refugee camps, and migration restriction, please feel free to use it in your Facebook account, Twitter feed or other media.
I was speaking about open borders to a European television show* and they asked bluntly, “Open Borders is a far off goal. Is it even reasonable to think about such a policy?” I responded that yes, we can think about broad policy change. I then mentioned how people never thought the Berlin Wall would be gone, but it happened. Still, one can ask: what path can be taken to implement such a radical change in policy?
In the US context, I think there is a reasonable, if extremely challenging, path to open borders. The intuition is that there are smaller steps that are possible and lead in the right direction. Closed borders are not one policy, they are a bundle of policies that each need to be attacked separately:
- No Deportations:Simple to explain and would have an immediate impact. Let people live without fear. The only people who are to be removed are those subject to criminal investigations and we should use the system of extradition to deal with crime.
- Visa simplification: I have learned that haggling over the visa system is a waste of time. You can spend enormous effort battling a complex administrative system and get nothing for your effort. Instead, propose a massive simplification. Simplification is simple to understand and would create a mass of people who can obey the law overnight. For example, we might have three categories: a student visa that would be automatically renewed as long as the student was enrolled in an institution of higher education; a visa for short term workers that could be renewed as long as the person shows employment; and a long term visa for people who wish to permanently reside in the US.
- The bridge to citizenship: The US is not based hereditary status or an aristocracy. Anyone in the world can be an American. The law should reflect that. Once we stop deporting people, and we stop making laws that are nearly impossible to obey, we should make it easy to become a citizen after a few years.
- Open borders: Abolish all quotas, let anyone come. If they live crime free and pay their taxes for a few years, let them stay as long as they want.
A dream? Sure, but we dreamed the end of slavery, the end of serfdom, the end of apartheid, the end of fascism, and the end of the Berlin Wall … and they happened.
* If they use the material, I’ll post it.
At Aeon Ideas (under reconstruction for a few weeks), I wrote an essay about the morality of migration restrictions. I ended my essay with the following passage:
If anti-immigration laws are unjust, is there a moral duty to obey anti-migration laws? The migrant has no more duty to obey modern anti-migration laws as the African-American had a duty to obey Jim Crow laws. They are simply cruel and humiliating regulations. They should be ended immediately.
A lot of folks thought that this was a misleading comparison. I disagree. No two social regimes are identical, but it is helpful to point out that current policies can be just as destructive and violent as policies from a previous era.
People have also argued that blocking someone from migrating to a new country is like making them wait for a building permit, so it is not like Jim Crow. This is categorically false. When you prevent someone from moving to a new nation, you prevent them taking a job, which costs them hundreds of thousands of dollars; you prevent them from being with family; and you prevent them from living a better life. In cases of people fleeing natural disaster or war, you are accelerating their likely death. Ultimately, any policy that makes a completely safe activity – moving to a new place- into a an activity that might result in death is morally unsound. Jim Crow and border controls are not identical but they are vicious policies aimed at specific populations and the policies wreck lives.
I am a big believer in social science. For example, I believe there is a lot of evidence supporting the view that elite endorsements do predict party nominations, as documented in The Party Decides. So how does one explain Donald Trump’s current popularity?
The answer, I think, is simple. Normally, politicians need party elites because they don’t have the money, name recognition, organization, or media presence to run for office. Trump has all of these:
- A billion dollar fortune he is willing spend from.
- Decades of media presence.
- His own business organization.
- Name recognition from books, tv, and even a board game.
Add to this that Trump is charismatic, then it is easy to see what the issue is. The Party Decides model is mainly about people who need parties for help. If you need a party, and it doesn’t like you, you’ll loose. Trump has his own resources and he’s great at projecting himself on tv. Thus, he has a chance at bucking the system.
This doesn’t mean that he’s a shoe-in. He could easily turn out to be one of the many also-rans in presidential races. But this reasoning does increase my small belief that he could win a state, or run a Ross Perot style campaign and get 10% or 20% of the popular vote. The deeper lesson here is that politicians, relatively speaking, are poor and need parties. That is why most people have to play by the party’s rules. If you have your own bank account, and you’re good on tv, you can write your own rules.
How do we know if restrictionism is unjust? Is it ethically good or bad to prevent migration between countries? In this post, I draw on Martin Luther King Jr.’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail to argue that restriction laws are unjust. King sets out the problem and offers a solution: “How does one determine whether a law is just or unjust? A just law is a man made code that squares with the moral law or the law of God. An unjust law is a code that is out of harmony with the moral law.” In other words, there is no intrinsic demand that the law be followed. You don’t have to follow the law just because it is a law.
But there arises a problem, how do we know if a law is in accordance with “moral law?” King begins by pointing out that just laws try to help people, but unjust laws degrade people and create privilege and superiority: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just. Any law that degrades human personality is unjust. All segregation statutes are unjust because segregation distorts the soul and damages the personality.”
King makes a behavioral argument. If a law were indeed just, the group that passed the law would apply it to themselves. “An unjust law is a code that a numerical or power majority group compels a minority group to obey but does not make binding on itself. This is difference made legal. By the same token, a just law is a code that a majority compels a minority to follow and that it is willing to follow itself. This is sameness made legal. Let me give another explanation. A law is unjust if it is inflicted on a minority that, as a result of being denied the right to vote, had no part in enacting or devising the law.”
Let us now turn to border controls and deportation. How do these laws “uplift human personality?” Restrictionist laws clearly do not “uplift” the people who are banned from entry. People who migrate may want jobs, or they want to be with family, or they simply want to be in another place that they deem safe. By preventing people from being with family, they clearly degrade people. By preventing people from earning a living and peacefully enjoying property, they degrade people.
What about the native citizen? How do restrictionist laws “uplift” her personality? They can’t because they are aimed at others. One’s moral standing is based on their action, not the action of others. Simply living in a nation that excludes others does nothing for one’s moral worth. To the contrary, the active approval of laws that degrade others decreases one’s moral standing. Supporting migration restrictions and deportations gives, in King’s words, the restrictionist a “false sense of superiority and the segregated a false sense of inferiority.”
King’s behavioral criteria implies that migration restrictions are unjust. If these laws are so wise and proper, then why do we not see border controls between the states of the Union? Or between different cities? If the restrictionist is truly concerned about the dangers of outsiders, why shouldn’t Northerners build a fence to keep Southerners out because of their different values? Should Catholics and Protestants dig a moat around Utah to stop Mormons from entering their territory? If the restrictionist is truly concerned about outsiders exploiting public assistance, why doesn’t New York City build a wall to prevent New Hampshire’s citizens from exploiting that state’s more generous government services? The fact that such walls do not exist, and the restrictionists do not ask for them, says to me that these laws can’t truly be just.
From the founding of the United States to the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, this nation had 106 years of free movement across its borders. Millions of Jews, Poles, Chinese, Mexican, German, and Russian people came to this shore, relieved that they could live their lives as they saw fit, free from deportation, exile, and murder. Since then, wave after wave of anti-immigration law has been passed by this nation’s citizens. It is time to recognize that these laws are unwise and unjust and have same moral standing as the laws of Jim Crow. They do not command respect or honor and should be seen for what they are: attempts to harass people who, by chance, were born in another nation. Ignore them at will.
This weekend, Slate published an article by Reihan Salam about Governor Rick Perry. Once considered a front runner, Perry quickly imploded in 2012 and is having trouble finding traction in the current primary. Why? As Reihan correctly notes, he has a record that indicates great political strength. On twitter, I offered the cheeky response: he once promoted legislation that allowed some undocumented Texans to receive financial aid from the University of Texas. Poison. Gabriel Rossman also notes that he “crashed and burned,” a reference to some poor campaigning. But still, he did manage to get the second most endorsements after Romney, which is usually a strong correlate of success as shown in the book The Party Decides.
I’d like to offer a deeper response which situates Perry within the broader evolution of national Republican politics and why he might have an even tougher time in 2016 than before. Let’s start with my master theory of national Republican politics as presented in the post Nixon’s Revenge. What you notice is that almost every single GOP Presidential ticket since 1952 has had someone from Nixon’s personal network – Nixon (1952, 1956, 1960, 1968, 1972), Dole (1976, 1996), Ford (1976), Bush (1980, 1984, 1988, 1992), and Cheney (2000, 2004). This network is what you might call the elite of the national security wing of the GOP, since they focus on foreign intervention.
The next observation is that this ruling faction of the GOP has lost its grip, somewhat. Romney emerged from a more liberal wing of the GOP that is now almost extinct. Palin is the GOP’s version of the social justice warrior. McCain earned his political stripes by virtue of military service and family connections in Arizona and, as far as I know, has relatively little connection to the network of elite Republicans centered around Nixon in the late 20th century.
In theory, Rick Perry might be a strong candidate in this environment. A strong electoral record in a big Republican state would be an asset and you no longer need the sponsorship of the Bush/Nixon coalition. He could, in theory, beat a path similar to Reagan in the 1970s. Work the activist base, develop strong media skills, and use the home state at a launch pad for national politics. When the Nixon sponsored candidate lost in 1976, Reagan could step in and claim the mantle in the next election cycle.
So why can’t Perry use this strategy? First, the Bush faction recovered and Jeb is their guy. That is one very important faction that Perry can no longer rely on. A lot of donors, staff, and activists are off limits. Second, Perry has not projected himself in a way that allows him to be strongly identified with any other faction that is large enough to make a difference in the primary. For example, Romney and McCain easily appealed to centrist Republicans. Palin appealed to the Fox news crowd. Currently, Scott Walker has been able to appeal to anti-unionists, populists and Tea Partiers. Rand Paul can appeal to the 10% of the GOP that is libertarian. Ask yourself who Perry represents in the GOP and it is hard to clearly align him to a faction, even though it is fairly clear that he is a social conservative.
One might ask why Perry has failed to become the standard bearer for a GOP faction. I am not an expert on Texas politics, but I can offer a few conjectures. First, maybe Perry simply isn’t as adept at playing the game of conservative social identities. Walker has spent a lot of time fighting unions and is now tweaking tenure, which is a love letter to the GOP base. When every GOP governor is rushing to create a no-abortion zone, you’ll probably need to do more to stand out from the crowd than pass another law aimed at abortion clinics. Walker understands that better than anyone. Second, Perry is old (66). His career started in the 1980s. He may not have the energy, or the flexibility, to stand out in this environment. Third, Perry may be a Texas specialist. There are a lot of effective governors who did well in their states but failed to make any headway nationally. Fourth is what I call “Mitch Daniels syndrome.” Signal any compromise with the enemy and that can sink you quickly (e.g., the famous debate when Perry was booed for a rather modest higher ed reform benefiting immigrants). There’s a really good reason Mitch Daniels is now a university president and not a serious contender for the nomination.
Bottom line: With the Bush coalition pushing a candidate, there is less room for someone like Perry. Also, Perry hasn’t been able to make himself into a “brand name.” There isn’t much else to say.