Archive for the ‘ethics’ Category
Glenn Greenwald wrote a recent article about the hypocrisy of Trump critics. Before, they demanded that leakers, such as Edward Snowden, be harshly punished, but now they praise the leakers who brought down General Flynn. I’d like to explore the issue of hypocrisy more.
As readers know, I am a long time advocate of open borders. As you can imagine, I was happy to see that people were justly horrified as Trump’s executive order. People flocked to airports to prevent customs and border patrol agents from sending back people who had legally obtained green cards. Yet, many people accused them of hypocrisy. Where were the protesters when Obama yanked amnesty for Cubans or when he deported hundreds of thousands of Mexican and Central American migrants, even putting children in jail?
The charge of hypocrisy is clearly correct. The Obama and Trump policies are similar in effect and action. The crowds are almost certainly driven by partisan animosity. But I don’t care. The cause of migration reform is so incredibly unpopular in this country that I simply can’t pick and choose friends. If Trump’s election causes a large number of Americans to suddenly care about deportations, fine. Those Iraqi migrants, who are escaping ISIS, don’t care about hypocrisy. Those children in immigration camps and jails don’t care hypocrisy either. And neither do I. They just want immigrants to be left alone.
An eternal optimist, I see hypocrisy as an opportunity. I don’t want the pro-refugee fervor to die down.I want it to persist no matter who is in the White House. Banning peaceful migrants is wrong. So I see hypocrisy as a gateway drug. Maybe Trump is a bad guy – and I think he is – and maybe you wouldn’t think so hard about immigration if Hillary Clinton were President. But I urge you to think about it – if banning refugees is bad now, maybe it’s just bad policy in general. Think about it.
Only seven days into his presidency, Donald Trump has issued cruel executive orders aimed at immigrants and refugees. One recent executive order banned the re-entry of any individual who was a citizen of Iran, Yemen, Syria and other countries. The order was especially cruel in that it applies to travelers who had already secured visas, green cards, and other paper work. Observers noted that the order applied to newborn infants, the elderly, and the disabled, none of whom present risk.
In response, lawsuits were filed and protests erupted. Thankfully, at least two federal court judges believed that the executive order was likely invalid and ordered a stay. However, this is a short term victory. It will not be hard for the Trump administration to rewrite executive orders and propose legislation that comply with American law. This is because courts time and time again have agreed that people do not have the freedom of movement.
As time passes, the Trump White House will learn how to write policy in ways that pass judicial review and that are approved by Congress. This is deeply problematic on two levels. First, restrictions on migrations are irrational and cruel, no matter who is president. But also, the successful imposition of anti-immigration policy will embolden the White House to follow through on one of Trump’s most repulsive proposals, a religious registry.
What do to? I think the strategy is obvious. Simply, resist these anti-immigration proposals now so that future proposals are harder pass. How? There are simple ways: simply say to your friends and family that immigration is ok; call your local representatives; donate to groups that litigate on behalf of immigrants; and, for the brave, their will be plenty of chances of non-violent civil disobedience.
While discussing a recent paper on public opinion and slavery in the pre-Civil War South on Econ Talk, Michael Munger gets into the arguments made for slavery:
Munger: … what Montesquieu asked was this: ‘We always hear people talking about how great slavery is. And you say, well, slavery is beneficial to you and it’s beneficial to the slaves; but it’s mostly slave owners who say stuff like that.’
Russ: Which makes you think.
Munger: Well, suppose we all go into a room. And when we come out, some of us are going to be slaves, and some won’t. Now, do you still believe in slavery? And if that’s then standard, then okay. But otherwise I’m not persuaded that this is really a moral argument about how we should live our lives. And so, what’s interesting is: there are these conventions. And then there are these challenges. And I think Rawls deserves credit for having said, ‘Here’s a standard that it would have to pass.’ … I don’t know we’re going to end up believing. But if you think ‘Yes,’ then in order for you to persuade anyone else that it’s actually just, it would have to pass these sorts of tests. It’s not exactly the same thing as understanding persuasion. But it is a way of problematizing the conventions that come down to us that we just accept because they are traditions.
Excellent point. I call this the “substitution test” for an ethical argument. For any policy X, you are free to make the arguments for why people A and B should accept X. Then, you have to put yourself into the position of A and B. If you wince at X at any point, then that’s probably a good reason to think twice about X. It’s related to the Rawlsian argument that one should evaluate policy from an “original position,” stripped of our actual interests.
Application to open borders: Say you are arguing that we should shut out all Syrian refugees because we’re afraid of terrorism. If you woke up and found yourself to be a Syrian refugee, would you make the same argument? If you faced death and torture in Aleppo, wouldn’t you want to argue that not all Muslim people are terrorists? Or that collective punishment and guilt by association are wrong? Or that maybe you should be given the chance to prove that you aren’t a terrorist? Or maybe that the value of saving millions of lives outweighs a few lives lost due to a few terrorists that the police didn’t screen out? Or that you’d be willing to pay an extra tax to compensate people who were harmed by migration?
In other words, most people people in the position of the Syrian refugee would not argue for shutting the gates and voluntarily returning to the burning ruble. Instead, they would almost certainly consider much more modest policies for addressing the perceived problems with migration so that lives could be saved. There’s a lot of moderate middle ground that people ignore when they promote closed borders.
Restrictionists, the ball is in your court.
did bill clinton accelerate black mass incarceration? yes, but he did put a bunch of white people in prison to even it out
Pam Oliver has a fascinating post that empirically investigates incarceration trends during Clinton 1 era (1993-2001). It’s an impressive post. Professor Oliver pulls up a lot of data on overall incarceration rates and breaks it down by race. You should read it yourself, but here is my summary, diagrams are from her article:
- Imprisonment rates, overall, kept on increasing during the entire Clinton 1 presidency.
- By race, Black imprisonment rates increased till about 2000 and then plateaued. It started at 75/100,000 and then peaked around 200 per 100,000 and then stabilized. There are huge increases, in rates, for Whites, Hispanics, and Native Americans. Asian rates seem to be stable.
- The story of racial disparity is a bit more complex. Roughly speaking, the Blackness of the prison population peaked around 1995 (see below). Then the Black/White ratio in prisons began to decline.
My interpretation. First, you have to distinguish between between absolute and relative effects. To be blunt, Black mass incarceration in absolute terms unequivocally increased during the Clinton 1 years. Period. Perhaps the only qualifier is that it eventually stabilized, but the Black imprisonment rate never declined or even remotely went back to the levels of the 1980s or early 1990s. Mass incarceration was built in the 1980s and 1990s and it was here to stay.
The real question is why it stabilized. One hypothesis is that it was a policy effect. Perhaps in the late-1990s, there were policy changed that took effect circa 2000. A second hypothesis is that the prison system became saturated and there weren’t any more people to imprison from that population. Professor Oliver’s data are not enough to settle the question.
Second, the real story is in relative rates. Imprisonment became a much more equal system in the 1990s. In other words, prison shifted from being a Black institution to more of an all American institution. My hypothesis is that the drug war machine simply reached its limit in imprisoning Black and expanded by targeted low income white.
In this data, the American prison system appears as a hungry beast, ruthlessly scooping up low SES populations one at a time. After being built in the 1950s and 1960s by liberal reformers, the American justice system now had the power to quickly and swiftly punish people. In the 1970s and 1980s, Republican and Democratic administrations turned this machine on urban blacks and went unstopped until the early 2000s. The machine then turned to poor whites in the 1990s and a similar machine was built to imprison and deport Mexican and Central American migrants.
Francis Fukuyama wrote that we reached the end of history because liberal capitalism won over its socialist and fascist competitors. The sad truth is that the history must continue and the next chapter will be the struggle to liberate the world’s people from predatory prison states.
Over at National Review, I’ve seen some puzzling articles about Gary Johnson, the libertarian candidate for president. First, there was an article that argued that Johnson was not truly libertarian. This strikes me as odd since politicians, especially successful ones like Johnson, are usually pragmatists, not college professors and it is strange for a conservative magazine to judge who is libertarian enough. Second, there was an article urging Johnson to court the right. This is also odd in that, aside from taxes and gun rights, libertarians have opposite beliefs from conservatives on issues ranging from migration, war, and cultural issues. These aren’t small differences. They’re YUGE.
Ultimately, though, libertarians should not court the right for practical and moral reasons. In practical terms, the libertarian-conservative alliance has been a complete failure. When libertarian candidates run for office within the GOP, they rarely get any support. In the last three presidential primaries, we’ve seen libertarian candidates run in the GOP and they have all failed miserably. Simply put, Republican voters have consistently rejected libertarians at almost every opportunity.
There is also policy. Except for the economic deregulation of the late 70s and early 80s, the conservative movement has sided against libertarians. Conservatives have supported nearly every single war in decades, they have sided with the expansion of police powers, they have sided with the war on drugs, they have stood for deportations of non-violent migrants, they have sided against women, minorities, and queer people when they have asked for civility and enforcement of rights, and they have sided with the massive expansion of the surveillance state after 9/11. How these stances emerge from a deep respect for individual people is beyond my ken. Whatever has been gained by the alliance of conservatives and libertarian is so paltry in stature that it requires a magnifying lens to observe.
Does this mean that libertarians should flock to liberals or the Democratic party? I don’t think so. One could easily write an equally long article about the incompatible aspects of modern liberalism. Libertarians, for example, are comfortable with wealth that is earned through the production of value, while liberals see economic inequality as inherently unfair or corrosive.
Instead, I suggest that libertarians approach politics through openness and bridge building. First, libertarians should stand their ground just as much as liberals or conservatives, but be open to interacting and cooperating with all manner of people. Not only is it smart for a movement that is a very small numerical minority, it is also consistent with the view that freedom of speech, diversity, and respect for others is part of the libertarian ethos. Second, libertarians should be a bridge. There are many issues where libertarians can maintain integrity while bringing things together instead of contributing to a polarized political environment. For example, libertarians can be part of the conversation on police powers that draws together concerned people on the left and right. In the end, what I want is a movement that makes the world a better place. That will happen with engagement and civility, not partisanship or pandering.
Philosophers are famous for thought experiments. You concoct a hypothetical situation in order to test a claim. Thought experiments are crucial because they force you think clearly about the limits of your claim. However, in practice, thought experiments leave people cold. They seem contrived and counter-intuitive. This post is about one way to help you evaluate whether a thought experiment is useful. I make no claims to originality, only usefulness.
Ethics motivates this discussion because ethicists are constantly cooking up thought experiments to test the limits of ethical theories. Let’s start with two examples:
- Trolley car problems (see the wiki for a history): In this situation, there is a runaway car. It is about to run over five people. If you pull a switch, it will run over one person. People die either way. Should you pull the switch?
- Wilt Chamberlain (from Nozick): Imagine that you live in a society with 100 people. Each person pays $1 to see Wilt Chamberlain play basketball. Inequality is increased as Wilt becomes $100 wealthier and every one becomes $1 less wealthy. Is this a just state of affairs?
Independent of my ethical priors, I have always found trolley car problems to be bizarre and Wilt Chamberlain to be intuitive. It was only recently that I was able to articulate the difference. Trolley car problems, in my view, are rare, artificially constructed situations. Wilt Chamberlain is a crisp form of a common situation.
At the Washington Post blog, Ilya Somin has a column on why people who favor color blindness should also favor open borders. He starts off with a great quote from Abraham Lincoln:
In a famous 1855 letter, Abraham Lincoln drew a connection between racism and hostility towards immigrants, then epitomized by the nativist Know-Nothing movement:
“I am not a Know-Nothing. That is certain. How could I be? How can any one who abhors the oppression of negroes, be in favor or degrading classes of white people? Our progress in degeneracy appears to me to be pretty rapid. As a nation, we began by declaring that ‘all men are created equal.’ We now practically read it ‘all men are created equal, except negroes.’ When the Know-Nothings get control, it will read ‘all men are created equal, except negroes, and foreigners, and Catholics.’ When it comes to this I should prefer emigrating to some country where they make no pretence of loving liberty — to Russia, for instance, where despotism can be taken pure, and without the base alloy of hypocracy [sic].”
Lincoln understood the similarity between racial prejudice against blacks and xenophobic hostility to immigrants. That is one of the reasons why he took a favorable view of immigration throughout his career, and opposed efforts to exclude potential immigrants from the US or otherwise discriminate against them. So too did a good many other prominent 19th century opponents of slavery and racial discrimination, such as Frederick Douglass.
Republicans: if the founder, and possibly greatest president, of your party favored migration, maybe it’s time to soften up and mellow out about immigrants. Just sayin’.