Illuminate This

This is not the first time Daniel Larison has replied to a post of mine with a thought like this:

Mr. Wilkinson has successfully shown once again that he hates boundary maintenance–both of the physical and the metaphorical kind–and that conservatives favour it, which is why he isn’t a conservative.  Very illuminating.

Apparently, Daniel thinks I spend a good deal of time saying nothing more substantive than that I do not agree with things I disagree with. It therefore strikes me as odd that Daniel's posts in response to my vacuities are so long.
Anyway, I don't think anyone who has paid attention to what I have been saying thinks I'm indiscriminately against boundaries. I'm against boundaries that do not make people better off. I like systems of private property — which include lots of boundaries — because the ability to exclude on this scale and in this way enables the ability to productively invest and coordinate, leaving most everyone better off over time. One can justify this system of boundaries to the least well-off by showing how it will tend to make them better off than the alternatives. It may not benefit them most, but they will be worse off without something like it. However, national boundaries are not like fences around parcels of property. And unlike local systems of property, the global system of exclusion through citizenships, visas, and borders has manifestly failed to make the world's least well-off better off. On the contrary, it has trapped billions in miserable poverty. They have reason to affirm the terms of this system … why? If Daniel doesn't think the suffering of billions counts as an argument against the current global system of exclusion by nationality, then what would? Anyway, it's just dense to think my argument is a bit of autobiography explaining why I don't identify as a conservative. My argument is that vast human suffering is caused by the systematic denial of the liberty of movement and association. Maybe I'm wrong about that. But it's hard to come up with a less trivial claim.
Now, if Daniel does little more than tells us again and again that he is proud to be indifferent to suffering and injustice just as long as it takes place outside the coalitions in which he chooses (for whatever reasons) to embed himself, and that is why he is a conservative, well, that's still pretty illuminating.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center