I’m afraid I feel rather personally about the current immigration crises in the United States and Europe.
(Yes, we have a crisis in the United States as well, or at least, we have Presidential candidates with high poll numbers claiming that we do, and said candidates are threatening to enact draconian measures, including mass deportations.)
I take the matter quite personally because my own father was once a war refugee. Indeed, he was once a war refugee who, because he was a member of a non-Christian religion, was denied refuge in more or less every civilized part of the world. Seventy five years ago, of course, Jews were not considered particularly welcome even by countries that knew full well what was happening in Germany.
My father managed to save himself by ignoring laws that said that he wasn’t allowed to cross borders in the night without permission. Had it been up to many people, of course, he would have died instead, but he quite sensibly believed that he was under no moral obligation to pay attention to people who would have preferred him to remain where he was and die, and thus he formed his own immigration plan without the permission of the legal authorities at his destination.
(Of course, only this morning I read that Victor Orbán has complained that allowing Syrians into Europe would diminish the Christian character of the continent, the sort of claim I’ve heard before in different contexts, including from the political movement that forced my father to flee in the first place. This does bring to mind an ancient set of questions for adherents of Christianity, such as what sort of razor-wire walled internment camp designs Jesus would have favored, as well as whom Jesus would have deported. But I digress.)
For me, the question of immigration is, because of my family history, a very emotional one. None the less, I have given the matter a considerable amount of thought, and I believe that, although I care deeply about the issue, my position is still not an irrational one. Rather, I think that my family history simply allows me to put faces to the theoretical people who might be denied passage and die where they are, and thus gives me the ability to understand by example the human consequences of policies.
(Indeed, this is perhaps much the same thing that has happened for people who have viewed the the photographs of poor Aylan Kurdi, who drowned because even though his family had plenty of money to go from where they were to a place of safety, they had to give it to smugglers instead of to a reliable airline or ferry company. Seeing an individual face, hearing an individual name, makes it harder to ignore the consequences of a policy. But again, I digress.)
So, as I have said, I’ve thought long and hard about this, and I’ve come to a straightforward conclusion. Anyone proposing that immigration from one country to another be stopped through the use of coercive state violence is, morally speaking, doing the equivalent of proposing to beat on the hands of a drowning man desperately trying to climb out of the sea.
I claim that there is no more moral justification for preventing a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting a house and then looking for work than there would be for preventing a man from within the borders of your supposed “nation state” from doing the same. I have scoured the literature on moral philosophy and failed to find any justification for the claim that a man born across an imaginary line has particularly different rights than a man born within it. I claim this is true regardless of whether the man from Homs seeks to rent the house next door because he is fleeing for his life or because he prefers the weather in your part of the world.
Indeed, the only way to stop a man from Homs from traveling to your town, renting an apartment from a willing owner, and taking a job from a willing employer, would seem to be to threaten to do violence or actually to do violence to that man. Which is to say, the only way to prevent him from moving would be the initiation of violence against an entirely peaceful person who has done nothing whatsoever to the people doing violence to him.
Therefore, not only would it seem that there is no moral justification for preventing such behavior, and not only would it seem churlish, but it would also seem that, if anything at all can be called immoral, then doing violence to a peaceful person who wants nothing more than to rent a house, find a job and live as everyone else does is immoral. Perhaps, of course, there is no such thing as right and wrong beyond personal whim, perhaps morals are not a real thing at all, but if morals are indeed a real thing and if morality means anything useful, then clearly such acts are immoral.
I know that some, perhaps even here on Samizdata, would suggest that immigrants are coming to the West to take advantage of our generous state welfare policies. If you believe that, then there is a trivial solution. I will in no way oppose the proposal that the law that opens the border should also specify that immigrants and even their children should not receive state benefits until they’ve lived in the country for ten, or twenty, or, who cares, make it a thousand years if you like. I don’t believe in the dole or state benefits of any sort to begin with, so I can’t consistently oppose denying people such benefits.
I have heard some others say “but they will vote and they are illiberal!”, and if you believe that, fine, deny them the right to vote — I’m an anarchist, and as I don’t believe in elections in the first place, I feel comfortable with denying the franchise to immigrants forever if you feel that is necessary for you to agree to open the border.
But, if you refuse to consider opening the border even if those coming are doing so with their own resources, are renting or buying homes with their own money, are not taking state benefits and are not voting for more collectivism, then I am afraid that I do have to look askance at your position.
Which is to say, your position was immoral in the first place, but if you refuse to reverse a completely immoral position even if the supposed “pragmatic” rationale for holding it vanishes, then perhaps your rationale is not only immoral but was also not held for pragmatic reasons in the first place.
It would be nice if the world as a whole was a less awful place. The average country is, after all, a democratically elected kleptocracy with a desperately poor population. (For evidence, see India or Haiti or Nigeria or Honduras.)
However, sustained progress worldwide, at least if we’re going to run legal systems based on popular votes instead of more rational methods, depends on most of the world understanding basic economics. The recent rise of Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump in U.S. polling demonstrates that even the bulk of people in the U.S. have no understanding of the barest rudiments of economics.
H. L. Mencken once said “Democracy is the theory that the common people know what they want, and deserve to get it good and hard.” However, the argument of most statists, on both the left and the right, is that we are our brother’s keepers, that the better off are obligated to run the lives of those who are not so well off, and this includes the more educated running the lives of the less educated.
If you don’t believe me, look around you: we are told that people cannot be trusted to figure out on their own if they should take intoxicating substances or if they should save for retirement or how they should educate their children — all those decisions must be made by the intellectual elite via the state. This is meant quite literally. Drugs must not be legalized because people can’t make their own judgements about taking them, or so we are told. People in the U.S. may not be allowed to privately manage the 14% of their income that goes to government “pensions” — savings would be an awful idea, since they’d just be duped out of their cash by investment firms, so the state must handle that money for them via Social Security. Voucher systems where children go to private schools selected by their parents are unacceptable, only a state run public education system run by the teaching elite is acceptable.
We could go down the list, everything from negotiating salaries to deciding if they want to eat raw milk cheeses. If people were allowed to run their own lives, they would make bad choices, and so it is not merely right but necessary that others, among the elite, should make their choices for them.
So, the smarter must, according to statism, run the lives of the less intelligent and educated, but at the same time it is obvious that even most of the educated in developed countries are incapable of even understanding comparative advantage or supply and demand curves. They are, when it comes to economic education, mere children, unable to help themselves.
The inevitable conclusion, therefore, is that statist morality is not compatible with democracy, but only with a dictatorship run by libertarians.
Note that this isn’t the conclusion I would come to myself, as I don’t share this moral belief system. I don’t personally want to be the dictator — I have no interest in running everyone’s life. However, it is the conclusion that believers in the state, and especially believers in programs like Social Security and public education, must logically come to — applying that morality, a reasonable outcome can only be expected if I and my colleagues are made absolute rulers. Indeed, according to those moral claims, this is not merely a superior solution but is actually morally required.
And yes, I’m trolling you, but at the same time I’m completely serious about what the statist belief system implies.
If you know for a fact that you won’t be able to buy Ribena if you shop at Tesco – for yourself or for your child – then shopping there might seem like an easy way of shopping healthily. Or maybe it’s just a simple PR move. McDonald’s salads were for some time the centerpiece of the company’s advertising, but were hardly less calorific than the burgers they were supposed to be a healthy alternative to.
Either way, as long as it’s just Tesco doing this, consumers can vote with their feet. My suspicion is that Tesco will lose money from doing this, and quietly reverse it after a few months, but the only way they can learn this sort of thing is by experimenting. As long as Sainsbury’s, Morrisons and plenty of other shops don’t follow suit, consumers will be only mildly inconvenienced.
The danger, though, is that the government uses this as a pretext to ban or tax sugary drinks across the board. This is a common sleight-of-hand used by the government, and we’ve seen seen it already this month: some firms pay their cleaners a living wage, so let’s make every firm pay all their workers a living wage.
The following content was posted by Radley Balko to Facebook — I claim no credit for it. I would normally have just linked to it, but links to Facebook content are often a bit fragile, and this is perhaps one of the most spectacular things I’ve seen for a while and deserves wider viewing.
Now improved! Edited to add headlines from March through July!
Portrait of an obsession: Every Alternet and/or Salon headline about libertarians from the last two years.
As Gene Healy put it, “Never before have so many been so intimidated by so few with so little political power.”
[New articles up to July 2015]
Libertarianism is for white men
What Rand Paul’s libertarian hypocrisy reveals about the GOP’s giant race problem
America’s libertarian freakshow: Inside the free-market fetish of Rand Paul & Ted Cruz
Rise of the techno-Libertarians: The 5 most socially destructive aspects of Silicon Valley
Big Data’s big libertarian lie: Facebook, Google and the Silicon Valley ethical overhaul we need
Elon Musk will not save us: Why libertarians waiting for a superman are wasting everyone’s time
Beware the Silicon Valley elite: Ayn Rand, Google libertarianism and Indiana’s “religious freedom”
I was a troll on the white dude-bro Internet: The dark side of gaming, libertarianism, and guns
Rand Paul’s civil rights fiasco: How Jon Stewart just unmasked him — and exposed libertarians’ perverted view of freedom
Rand Paul’s dystopian America: 6 things to know about the war-mongering, faux libertarian
5 Worst Things About the Techno-Libertarians Solidifying Their Grasp on Our Economy and Culture
Liberland: Hundreds of Thousands Apply to Live in the World’s Newest—Very Tiny—Libertarian ‘Country’
Rand Paul, Doofus: The Libertarian’s Embarrassing “Racial Outreach”
Will War Between the Religious Right and Libertarians Tear the Tea Party Apart?
My Personal Libertarian Hell: How I Enraged the Movement and Paid the Price
How Big Business Invented the Theology of ‘Christian Libertarianism’ and the Gospel of Free Markets
Welcome to ‘Libertarian Island': Inside the Frightening Economic Dreams of Silicon Valley’s Super Rich
It’s Bizarre: Libertarians Are Clueless About the ‘Free Market’ That They Worship
The True History of Libertarianism in America: A Phony Ideology to Promote a Corporate Agenda
[New articles up to March 2015]
Libertarianism is for petulant children: Ayn Rand, Rand Paul and the movement’s sad “rebellion”
The atheist libertarian lie: Ayn Rand, income inequality and the fantasy of the “free market”
Nightmare libertarian project turns country into the murder capital of the world
21 Rand Paul quotes that expose libertarianism for the con job it is
Ann Coulter: Libertarian voters are “idiots” who deserve to “drown”
My unusual libertarian journey: How a former outlaw broke the political mold
Libertarian Sham: Using the L Word to Hide Even Worse Politics
Ayn Rand’s capitalist paradise lost: The inside story of a libertarian scam
The sharing economy is a lie: Uber, Ayn Rand and the truth about tech and libertarians
Some might say “I don’t care if they violate my privacy; I’ve got nothing to hide.” Help them understand that they are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of human rights. Nobody needs to justify why they “need” a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you. More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.
But even if they could, help them think for a moment about what they’re saying. Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.
Yesterday a medical doctor friend told me that these days you have to show ID and sign for laboratory glassware. You may perhaps even be asked why you need it.
When I was a kid, you picked up an Edmunds Scientific or other catalog, used the money you earned mowing lawns and bought your gadgets and glassware by mail order – unless you were lucky enough to live in the same city in which case you went to their outlet and came straight home with it on the same day. No questions were asked. Lab glassware was just part of being a future scientist in a nation of free people.
Why has this changed? The Drug War. It is yet another culturally disastrous bit of police state monitoring enabled by fear mongering about meth labs. Well, to put it simply, I do not care. The people responsible for these sorts of regulation are much more socially damaging in their efforts because they undercut our liberty, our ability to act as free and autonomous citizens. It is my right to buy something ‘because I feel like it’ and to use it for ‘whatever the hell pleases me’ just because I am an American. I need no other reason.
I have no sympathy for the drug warriors. I want them unemployed. As to the people who think up these un-american regulations…
There’s a story appearing in the Times and the Guardian upon which anti-semites and proto-totalitarian atheists are feasting like flies on dung. Read the comments to see what I mean, and bear in mind that those you see are the ones the mods did not think bad enough to delete. Yet the story that has brought forth such rage does not describe any sort of religiously-inspired persecution, cruelty or mutilation. No one is being forced to do anything. If it were not for the malign involvement of one particular sinister organisation this same story would raise a slightly condescending chuckle from the average broadsheet reader at the eccentricities of religious enthusiasts, before being forgotten.
The sinister organisation that is stirring up religious hatred is Her Majesty’s Department of Education. Sorry, Department for Education. Don’t blame me for not keeping up; the D of E / DfEE / DfES / DCSF / D for E changes its name more often than an outfit selling dodgy timeshares.
Back to the story. Apparently there is an Ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect called the Belz, some of whose adherents live in Stamford Hill, a part of North London where many Hasidic Jews of several different denominations make their home. This particular sect, the Belzers (both that name and “the Belz” seem to be in use), run a couple of schools. It seems that the Belzer top rabbi sent out a decree saying that women should not drive and that children attending the sect’s schools would be turned away if their mums turned up to collect them by car. Absent the government’s interference this would have been quietly dealt with in the obvious manner as described in the Times story “However, several women drove large people-carriers, apparently to collect their children from school, but parked some distance away”, and that would have been an end to it. But no. Woop-de-do, the government is on the case:
Nicky Morgan, the education secretary, has begun an investigation into an ultra-Orthodox Jewish sect whose rabbis have banned women from driving children to school.
Mrs Morgan, who is also minister for women and equalities, said: “This is completely unacceptable in modern Britain. If schools do not actively promote the principle of respect for other people, they are breaching the independent school standards.”
Consider that for a moment. A government minister pronounces on whether the voluntary and entirely legal behaviour of certain British women is “acceptable” to “modern Britain”, the role of giving or refusing acceptance on behalf of sixty-four million individuals having apparently been added to the DfE’s ever-changing remit while nobody was looking. The minister then adds that failure on the part of a so-called independent school to actively promote an officially approved emotion is in breach of some official standards.
Now the Belzers could be said to have brought this interference upon themselves if they either accepted government coin to run their “independent” schools or signed up for these “independent school standards”, whatever they are. (The papers seem remarkably coy about whether these schools are truly private or wholly or partially state-funded. I expect they are hiding something damaging to the narrative.) But when the government regularly uses legal harassment to make it next to impossible to run a private organization without accepting some government “help” and acceding to government-set standards, it is hard to blame those running the Belz schools if they did give in to the men from the Ministry. They were probably told that if they paid this symbolic tribute then they would be left alone.
What business is it of anyone else if a woman chooses to accept, or to pretend to accept, a religious ruling not to drive? Is driving compulsory now, that choosing to cease doing it is “unacceptable” to the Secretary of State? What business is it of anyone else if independent schools and independent parents come to an agreement about which pupils shall attend a particular school that is based on conditions mutually acceptable to them? So the religious ruling and the conditions of attendance seem absurd to you and me? So we and Nicky Morgan would order our acceptably modern British lives better than these relics do? So what?
I am usually a sceptic towards the idea of “dog whistles”. This is a political metaphor from the States which is meant to describe the way that allegedly racist Republicans allegedly use coded language that seems harmless but carries a secret nefarious meaning at a frequency that only fellow racist Republicans can hear. Oh, and Democrat newspaper columnists can hear it too, for some reason. Coded racism can really occur, as can racist Republicans, but most of the time this is just a way of accusing people of racism for political advantage without the necessity of providing any evidence.
But I could come round to the belief that political dog-whistles do exist. There must be some explanation of why the trivial doings of this homeopathically tiny Jewish sect of a sect are bringing forth such passionate denunciations from journalists and their readers. I think it is because the Belz act towards women like Muslims do but are not Muslims. By righteously raging at the Belz for their half-hearted pretence at oppression of women you get to demonstrate how you totally would rage at their Muslim equivalents for their much more effectively enforced actual oppression of women – only they don’t happen to be in the newspaper today. And how convenient that the Belz are few in number, low in the hierarchy of victimhood favoured by the left, and do not turn to violence when criticised.
As a bonus the last paragraph of the Times story contains a tacked-on paragraph showcasing a completely different way that the state, working in partnership with people of faith, can stir up resentment between Jews and non-Jews:
Aurelie Fhima, 23, has won £16,000 damages from Travel Jigsaw of Manchester, a travel firm, after her job application was rejected. She had said that she did not want to work on Saturdays because she observed the Jewish law of not working on the sabbath.
Congratulations, Aurelie, for your pioneering and profitable use of discrimination law. Who would have guessed that a working for a travel agent would involve working on a Saturday, the only day when most working people are free to visit travel agents? Good thing for you that the travel agents were not gay; your unprogressive religion would not have scored highly enough to trump them then.
“With regard to the idea of whether or not you have a right to healthcare, you have to realize what that implies….I’m a physician, that means you have a right to come to my house and conscript me, it means you believe in slavery. It means you’re going to enslave not only me, but the janitor at my hospital, the assistants, the nurses…There’s an implied threat of force, do you have a right to beat down my door with the police, escort me away, and force me to take care of you? That’s is ultimately what the right to free healthcare would be.”
I came across this quotation via Facebook, which in turn had been posted up by someone on a sort of “celebrity” website. The person who put up the posting in the first place is clearly traumatised at the statement of principle by Rand Paul about the bogus “right” to healthcare. RP is to be congratulated for spelling out in the clearest fashion what is wrong with notions of claim rights where what is involved is not the classical (correct) notion of a right to be left alone, but the contrary attitude about a “right” to demand that others give you something even if those others haven’t taken it away in the first place.
This sort of confusion, famously skewered many years ago by Isiah Berlin in his essay about two concepts of liberty, still persists. I often find Rand Paul’s sort of argument particularly powerful when putting the problem with such “rights” in human terms.
A bakery whose Christian owners refused to make a cake carrying a pro-gay marriage slogan has been found guilty of discrimination after a landmark legal action.
Ashers Baking Company discriminated against Gareth Lee when it refused to create the cake featuring the Sesame Street puppets Bert and Ernie, with a slogan “Support Gay Marriage”, a judge has found.
Ruling in the case that has split public opinion in Northern Ireland, Isobel Brownlie, the district judge, said: “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of sexual discrimination.”
So, you can be forced to say “Support Gay Marriage”, on the grounds that if you don’t say it someone will be left feeling “like a lesser person”, to quote Mr Lee, the plaintiff in this case.
How might this principle be extended?
Added later: in answer to my own question, a scenario:
Following the Labour victory in the closely-fought election of 2020, the new prime minister made good on the pledge made to the Muslims who had formed such a reliable part of the winning “coalition of the oppressed”. (In fact the promise to outlaw Islamaphobia had first been made by Ed Miliband back in 2015.) The relevant amendments to the Equality Act 2010 having been made, it seemed a natural next step for many Muslims to press for the UK to follow the example of several Canadian cities and give legal weight to the verdicts of the existing informal network of Sharia tribunals to which Muslims could choose to bring civil cases as an alternative to the regular channels of English or Scottish Law. It was as part of the campaign for this that the plaintiff, Mr A, approached the Rainbow Baking Company, run as a family business by the defendants Mr B & Mr C. The judge ruled that “The defendants have unlawfully discriminated against the plaintiff on grounds of religious discrimination” when they refused to bake a cake bearing the message “SUPPORT SHARIA LAW”.
As it happens I am not in principle opposed to parallel systems of arbitration running in parallel to the ordinary law, so long as they are strictly voluntary. But my imaginary gay bakers might well profoundly object to being obliged to make a cake bearing that slogan. However by then the precedent that they can be forced to by law will have been set.
The Samizdata people are a bunch of sinister and heavily armed globalist illuminati who seek to infect the entire world with the values of personal liberty and several property. Amongst our many crimes is a sense of humour and the intermittent use of British spelling.
We are also a varied group made up of social individualists, classical liberals, whigs, libertarians, extropians, futurists, ‘Porcupines’, Karl Popper fetishists, recovering neo-conservatives, crazed Ayn Rand worshipers, over-caffeinated Virginia Postrel devotees, witty Frédéric Bastiat wannabes, cypherpunks, minarchists, kritarchists and wild-eyed anarcho-capitalists from Britain, North America, Australia and Europe.