Thursday, January 15, 2009

National Boundries and Labor

Will Wilkinson finally returned from vacationing in Thailand, being denied entry to Burma, and getting engaged, so that he might freeze his ass off in Iowa and blog for my amusement again.

See him beat the premise for Nationalistic Labor Protectionism with a rusty, blood-spattered, spiky cudgel and leave it for dead.

Ignore the fact that what I'm doing barely counts as blogging.


ish said...

It is a good article and makes a number of very important points. But it also commits a common Libertarian fallacy of confusion between should and is.

A big part of his argument seems to stem from a belief that these "clubs" shouldn't exist. And certainly it is true that any debate about the good of the people which systematically ignores the majority of people is less useful than it could be.

But nation-states DO exist. And they exist primarily as mutual-welfare clubs, in which the members pay their dues (taxes)with an understanding that the leadership will look out for their welfare. There is certainly an argument to be had about whether the clubs should be run this way. There may even be an argument about whether it is moral to have clubs that look out for the welfare of their own members to the exclusion of others. But as long as they exist with this understanding, it is an ethical question to spend the money of club-members improving the standard of living of non-members while reducing it for members (which is certainly the result of rapidly reducing immigration barriers, especially in the case where other nations do not follow suit). The overall standard of living of all people would rise, but that of those current club-members would fall. The reason nation-states talk about improvements for their own citizens first is because that's what they have the most control over. Perhaps one day the citizens of the world will realize that nation-states are arbitrary borders that reduce productivity and welfare for all. But since that day isn't here today, pretending that it is really only confuses the issue.

Too hard to frame a full argument in this little comment window and I really don't want to diagnose the formatting snafus on my blog right now. But I think I've waved roughly in the direction of my point anyway.

It reminds me of another big Libertarian blindspot.
1)Libertarians oppose the use of force/coercion
2)Libertarians support the elimination of authoritative structures which could use coercion

3)If the elimination of these structures results in much more coercion from private actors (predictably) than existed previously, it isn't the fault of Libertarians because of 1 and 2.

I see this argument over and over in hardcore Libertarian circles, as if being "against" coercion somehow obviates its predictable occurrence as a result of your action. (It doesn't.)

All that said, I definitely support much less barriers to immigration, and don't favor strict protectionist policy.

The Really Sarcastic Weasel said...

Well, don't get me started on should v. is. Libertarians are very guilty of this fallacy, true. Probably fourth behind collectivists, theocrats, and liberals. I don't think Will is confused about should and is; I think he might be advocating should. Fact is, as members of a republic, with respect to immigration policy, we stand a reasonable chance of having our wishes expressed should we chose to insist to be rational and just about them. I have yet to see a political philosophy though that does not fail when people fail to be rational and far-sighted. Hence my retreat into pluralism. I'm a fan of libertarianism because it is based on rational self interest (there's that rational word again), my own personal moral code, but imposing my moral code on society is more fitting for christian nationalists or islamo-fascists than for me. Also, libertarianism rejects any kind of collective definition of rights, responsibilities, and thought which are, bluntly, useless fictions.

I suppose if you push any ideology to it's reductive extreme, it fails to function in reality. It does seem a little unfair to pick out libertarianism to criticize on that front. Though your reading of libertarianism sounds more like anarchy to me.

ish said...

I agree that should is what he is advocating, and I don't have a problem with that. It's when he transitions from saying that because this is how things should be, discussing how things actually are is meaningless that he loses me.

It could be unfair, but it seems to me that Libertarians are far more likely to respond to clear and predictable failures in their policies with a justification of the theory behind it than those other groups. And it precisely because of the intended rational basis behind it that makes this so disappointing.

There isn't a rational underpinning to theocracy. God says do this, so you should do it, which means in the case of failure it's your fault. Collectivism and Modern Liberalism are both based on value judgements (that goods should belong to all, or that social justice and equality are the highest priority in governing), which means if things aren't working we need to find a new program that accomplishes those goals (or blame our opposition for messing it up).

But perhaps I'm creating a distinction where one doesn't exist. I suppose the point is that I don't expect theocrats or liberals to behave rationally, and they don't especially claim to be. Therefore, I think it is fair to hold Libertarians to a higher standard (or rationality).

ish said...

All that beside, the reason I like Will's blog so much is that he is the most likely to rationally explore failures and see how to enact a Libertarian-unpure solution, retreating toward pluralism where the theory doesn't match. He deserves much credit for this, and it is also why I push so hard against him when I think he is not.

The Really Sarcastic Weasel said...

I'm not sure I made myself entirely clear.

It wasn't my intention to point out how libertarian solutions to problems fall short when libertarians fail to be rational. Libertarians are always rational (except, I guess, when they're not).

I wanted to point out that libertarian solutions fall short when "large numbers" (whatever that may mean) of people in a libertarianly structured society fail to behave rationally (be they the libertarian planners or otherwise).

That was the basis on which I was comparing libertarianism to other ideological structures. Even anarchy would work if all people everywhere began behaving rationally tomorrow... perhaps even collectivism too.

Libertarians are 100% correct in pointing out that under centralized, coercion-heavy systems, the number of people required to behave irrationally in order to reduce the system (and the society on which it's based) to an oppressive hell approached one as the level of centralization and coerciveness approaches infinity (That is, if any libertarians argue that... I really have completely lost my taste for following establishment arguments in their totality... including libertarian ones. Hence why I bring in links to the occasional post here and then act like I have no idea what the broader context is that the post lives in. I don't know... unless it's about system identification, health monitoring, or control related to civil engineering applications... I manage to keep up on that.)

I've been coding and debugging embedded, distributed, adaptive control shit all day and my brain has nearly ground to a halt... hence all of the ellipses and garbled thoughts... not sure what my normal excuse is for many garbled thoughts... and hey, don't you have some kind of blog thingy? Post some kind of liberal utopian thoughts there; I'll go over there and disagree with you point by point but then support your conclusion.

The Really Sarcastic Weasel said...


Your comments constitute about 80% of my 2009 content so far and I barely have to work to generate them.

Keep commenting here. Ignore your own stinky blog.

Social Security sux!
Abolish the SEC!
Abolish the FDA!
Open the borders!
Abortions for all!
[crowd boos]
Very well, no abortions for anyone.
[crowd boos]
Hmm... Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others.

What the hell is the libertarian position on abortion?
I don't even know that.
Is it considered more coercive to force a woman to bear an unwanted baby to term or to force an unborn baby to stop being quite so structurally intact?

ish said...

Granted that decentralization reduces opportunities for Supreme Executive Power, but it also helps to set up many mini-oligarchies who are relatively unchecked. So agreed, they both suck.

No I can't go to my blog, this has been my way of deviously forcing you to take time responding, using known triggers.

I suspect the Libertarian position on abortion is remarkably close to my own, which is that there should be no federal laws proscribing it, but that it should be entirely unsupported with federal funds. Of course that's an impossibility in the real world, since the only way you can guarantee no federal funding for abortion is to deny funding to any facility that performs them, which then denies other necessary functions they perform. (This was the Bush administrations general pattern, with which I disagree). So my position is untenable. But it makes sense in the abstract. In case you thought I wasn't still capable of bald hypocrisy.