Ladies Still Not Taxpayer Dispensers

At Slate, Kerry Howley talks sense to Michelle Goldberg about the doubtful feminist wisdom of using population panic as a pretext for putatively “feminist” policies. Goldberg has clearly neglected Howley’s powerful Reason feature on natalist policy from which I offer this concluding excerpt:

But as pro-baby policies are inevitably sold as pro-mother, and by extension pro-woman, it’s worth recalling the sentiment behind the Australian birth premiums and Singaporean matchmaking schemes. At the heart of any fertility incentive lies an attempt to encourage a particular group of women to orient their bodies in a traditional way. Every pro-fertility policy is an effort to slow cultural transformation, to stabilize a society’s ethnic composition, to ossify a current conception of a national culture by freezing the genetic makeup of a nation. From Poland to Singapore, swollen wombs are a bulwark against change.

There is a reason we speak of “Mother Russia” and “Mother India.” Feminist sociologists such as Nira Yuval-Davis refer to women as the “boundary markers” of a state or society. While men may leave, fight, and be compromised, women represent purity and continuity. Yuval-Davis points out in her book Gender and Nation that the Hitler Youth Movement had different mottos for girls and boys. The boys’ motto was: “Live faithfully; fight bravely; die laughing.” For girls: “Be faithful; be pure; be German.” Girls simply had to be. They were the collective.

In times of great social anxiety, we see new calls for women to return to home and hearth—calls alternately cast as a return to tradition and as a progressive leap forward, but efforts, nonetheless, to enlist women in a national project while defining the boundaries of national inclusion. Depopulation is not a given, but ideologically fraught and scientifically questionable debates about gender, race, and culture will be with us no matter which way the population swings. “To know what demography is, we need to know what a population is,” the French social scientist Herve Le Bras wrote in The Invention of Populations. “That is where the trouble begins.” 

[Full disclosure: K.L. Howley and I co-own a rumbustious vizsla.]

Clubs versus Social Justice

So, enough with vacation pictures! Here are some riffs extending a few lines of argument in my forthcoming Cato paper on inequality… 

The pattern of wages and incomes at the level of the nation state is morally arbitrary. A fortiori, as Hayek notes, desert-based conceptions of national pattern are doubly hopeless. Wages are determined by demand in the labor maket, which is not really national and not at all under individual control. The best an individual can do to “deserve” a wage level in a certain neighborhod is to try to respond to labor market signals and acquire skill that pays. But the idea of justifying the differences between two individual’s wages is a classic category mistake. Maybe widget polishers earn more than dingus tighteners because there is a glut of dingus tighteners. That inequality is morally meaningless — completely irrelevant. Sooner or later, some dingus tighteners will learn to polish widgets and the gap will narrow. Now, if the widget polishers guild is creating barriers to entry, as cartels are wont to do, the wage gap would reflect an injustice. The injustice isn’t the gap, though; it’s the violation of economic liberty rights. Likewise, if all the widget polishing jobs are on the other side of a line that you are not allowed to cross, the inequality will reflect a prior violation of liberty. But assuming a (rare and precious) free market in labor, when it comes to wage gaps, deserve ain’t got nothing to do with it.

Do I deserve my salary? Of course I do. I’ve got an agreement with the Cato Institute. I give them certain services, they give me a certain salary. If I’ve done my job, I’ve got it coming to me. Do Cato Research Fellows deserve to make more than dingus tighteners? Again, the question is just a category mistake. Dingus tighteners deserve what their employers promise them. You can ask “What justifies the gap in pay between Research Fellows and dingus tigheners?” But what kind of question is this? Doesn’t it amount to:  “What justifies the fact that employers of Research Fellows offer more than employers of dingus tighteners”? Or: “What justifies the fact that Research Fellows have labor market alternatives that pay better than the labor market alternatives of dingus tighteners”? Or: “What justifies the fact that certain skills are in shorter supply relative to demand”?

Do these questions make any sense? There are explanations to offer, but there is no room for questions of justification. To whom is this question supposed to be addressed anyway? Society? Whatever society is, it’s some kind of international network of cooperation, so, again, it’s super confused to attempt to address an already meaningless question to something, the nation state, which is not the kind of unit to which this kind of question of justification can sensibly be posed.

There are an indefinite number of sets of people bound by relations we might think are interesting. What’s the point of picking out one of those sets of people and then asking whether the pattern of incomes or wages among them tracks desert, or anything else? What would make you think this kind of tracking is even possible? What would make you think this is desirable?

If nationalist political theorists were to adopt a different vocabulary, they could start making sense, but then it would be clear that they’re not really doing moral philosophy in quite the way they thought they were. You begin to realize you’re doing something like the modern version of theorizing about the obligations of kings to the lesser nobility. It may seem extremely important at the time, but it lacks the universality of an authentically moral question. Anyway, my contention is that nation states really are just a special kind of club. This isn’t even a metaphor. It’s exact. Nation states are clubs. Citizenships are club memberships. Visas are club guest passes. Immigration debates are always at bottom about clubbability. It’s really not all that different to be told “Welcome home” by the U.S. immigration officer and to be kicked out by the Myanmar immigration officer. The point is that some people are members and some people aren’t, that some non-members are welcome as guests and some people aren’t. 

It would be immensely useful and clarifying if we would start being explicit about the club structrure of the globe, and the assumptions about the naturalness or inevitability of exclusive clubs at the very foundation of political philosophy. We would then be able to ask questions about how we, the club members, would like the club’s institutions organized and governed, how we would like the holdings of the members distributed, etc., But it would then be pretty hard to characterize this sort of theorizing as the core of a theory of social justice, a theory that is supposed to have some kind of deep moral bite, while running away from the obviously prior question about the justification of the rules of membership and exclusion that constitute the clubs. That the question over the justification of the distribution of club memberships and guest passes so obviously comes first but is so fastidiously ignored, or treated as a kind of special case, can be nothing but a huge embarrassment to a discipline that pretends to offer a theory of social justice. 

So back to inequality and distribution. As a matter of fact, many Mexicans and Canadians are in society with one another. Let’s say there is a pretty big difference in pay between Mexican and Canadian dingus tighteners. Part of the explanation for this, let’s suppose, is just like the difference between widget polishers and dingus tightener when the widget polishers guild uses the political system to restrict entry. Despite high demand, Canada keeps most Mexican dingus tighteners out, in effect subsidizing the wages of dingus tighteners who are members or guests of the Canadian club (not the whiskey.) So here is your intelligible question of economic and social justice. What justifies the barriers to entry that privelege some members of society at the expense of others. To draw the bounds of society at the border is a completely specious move to ignore the most basic question of justice by defining it away.

When I make this point, I get the sense that some nationalist egalitarian liberals think I’m trying to cleverly avoid confronting the allegedly baleful inequalities in the national pattern of economic holdings. But that’s not what I’m doing. I’m sincerely arguing that nationalist liberal egalitarianism is morally unserious arbitrary nonsense.

Tim Lee on Patriotism

Tim Lee’s response to Tim Sandefur (and therefore to Ilya Shapiro) is spot on. Do read the whole thing.

I especially liked this:

Loving your country because it embodies specific political ideals isn’t patriotism, it’s called having a political philosophy. Patriotism is loving your country because it’s your country, regardless of what political ideals it may or may not embody. Most people would not switch allegiances if they became convinced that another country better embodied their political ideals.

It is not obvious to me that other countries don’t better embody the ideals I most care about. Because I do have a particularist attachment to America, I’m quite glad that its not obvious. I do love America (in much the same way I love Iowa and the Cato Institute). But I love liberty, prosperity, and human flourishing first. If another society does better in securing these things, it’s a better society, and I would indeed switch my allegiances if it came down to it. That is, I have a political philosophy and I seriously.

Tim’s conclusion is especially good:

It’s important to understand the social and psychological processes that lead people to be biased in favor of their own groups in part because it will make us more effective at persuading others to adopt our ideals. Our goal in Iran, for example, should not be to make Iranians patriotic Americans—an impossible task—but to make them (classical) liberals. The way to do that is to convince them that it’s possible—maybe even natural—to view liberalism and Iranian patriotism as compatible. This is one of the reasons I’m a big fan of Tom Palmer’s work to convince people around the world that liberty is not an American invention but the common heritage of mankind. Tom goes out of his way to find home-grown examples of liberty in the various countries where he works—writings of ancient Chinese philosophers in China, Sumerian writings in the Middle East, and so forth. We’re never going to turn Iranians or Chinese into American patriots. But we may be able to help them cultivate a more liberal conception of what it means to be an Iranian or a Chinese patriot.

That’s exactly right. If you really care about liberty, you’ve got to ease up on the Americanism.

Collectivism and Meaning

Great stuff in today’s WSJ from Cato executive veep David Boaz on the collectivist blowhards running for president.

Messrs. Obama and McCain are telling us Americans that our normal lives are not good enough, that pursuing our own happiness is “self-indulgence,” that building a business is “chasing after our money culture,” that working to provide a better life for our families is a “narrow concern.”

They’re wrong. Every human life counts. Your life counts. You have a right to live it as you choose, to follow your bliss. You have a right to seek satisfaction in accomplishment. And if you chase after the almighty dollar, you just might find that you are led, as if by an invisible hand, to do things that improve the lives of others.

Right on. So why the nonsense? Arnold Kling says it’s Hansonian altruistic signaling. Sure, there’s some of that. But why does this get a grip on us? Why are people such suckers for the idea that collective sacrifice is a source of meaning.

Here’s a question. Is sacrifice for grand collective projects really meaningful? Probably it is. But the reward, the compensation for sacrifice, is indifferent to the content of the project. Probably genocide is meaningful for those who devote themselves to it. Religion is meaningful, too. But it’s a pack of lies. Meaningfulness is too promiscuous, justifies too much. I suspect there’s little sense in mounting an argument against meaning, per se. Everybody wants it, even if we badly overestimate how much we need it. But I think we’re obliged to do better in discriminating between sources of meaning and their effects. We tend to indulge people’s irrational fixations when they claim that they find them “meaningful.” But why? That it is “meaningful” to X may be a reason to be especially hard on X, if X is dangerous and meaning is really so attractive. Collectivism is meaningful, but it is mindless, pathetic, and the essential fuel for the greatest cruelty. That it does feel sublime to submit to the will of the whole, to lose oneself in something bigger, that it is a special kind of bliss to transcend the small grubby thing that is one’s own small life, is why human beings will so cheerfully slaughter one another. This should probably be discouraged.

Economic Nationalism Alert

Of H1-B visas, Dean Baker writes:

By increasing the supply of highly skilled workers, the H1-B program undoubtedly reduces the wages for the most affected occupations. According to standard trade theory, this is precisely the point of the program. Allowing firms to get lower paid workers will reduce their cost and increase the economy’s potential output. It is the same argument that is used for the gains from getting cheap textiles or steel from foreign producers.

The argument from high-tech employers, that they simply can’t get enough high tech workers in the United States is ridiculous on its face. If these jobs paid millions of dollars per year (like jobs at Wall Street investment banks), then highly skilled workers would leave other occupations and develop the skills necessary to work in high tech occupations. Obviously, Bill Gates and the other high tech employers cited in this article want to be able to employ high tech workers at lower wages. The issue is wages, not a shortage.

It must be hard to know what you want. I imagine Baker wants to reduce national inequality. But increasing the supply of skilled labor would directly counteract the main economic cause of increasing inequality. So why isn’t this notable egalitarian doing cartwheels trying get the government to print H1-Bs like Mugabe prints money? Oh, because the people getting those jobs don’t already have American citizenship.

It seems that improving the material welfare of a great number of skilled foreign-born workers while at the same time lowering American income inequality would be quite appealing to certain people. But hey, screw reducing inequality if it helps foreigners! Much better to exacerbate national inequality by using immigration restrictions to reduce the relevant labor supply and increase the wage premium for skill. Then, when inequality surges further, we can lay the blame on the rich people who would have liked to welcome more high-skilled immigrants and then tax the crap out of them and the now-even-richer domestic tech workers whose wages we are subsidizing through immigration controls. Brilliant!

Analytical Nationalism vs. What Actually Happens

Krugman takes his point about immigration from Nolan McCarty, Keith T. Poole, and Howard Rosenthal’s Polarized America. Here’s how they put it:

The new immigrants are predominantly unskilled. They have contributed greatly to the economy by providing low-wage labor, especially in jobs that American citizens no longer find desirable. They also provide the domestic services that facilitate labor market participation by highly skilled people. On the other hand, immigrants have also increased inequality both directly, by occupying the lowest rungs of the economic ladder, and indirectly, though competition with citizens for low-wage jobs. Yet as noncitizens they lack the civic opportunities to secure the protections of the welfare state. Because these poor people cannot vote, there is less political support for policies that would lower inequality by redistribution.

This is just a terrific example of the distortions of analytical nationalism. If we assume a completely natural  and mundane moral perspective, in which the whole set of people involved is taken into account, what we see is a huge reduction in both poverty and inequality. If the question is “What happened to the people in this scenario?”, then the answer is “The poorest became considerably wealthier, narrowing the economic gap between them and the rest.” But what actually happened seems to be completely invisible to the authors, which certainly suggests that their analytical framework leaves something to be desired.

Here’s how it ought to go:

Immigration decreased inequality both directly, by sharply increasing the wages of low-skilled foreign-born workers, and indirectly, through remittance payments to low-income relatives at the immigrants’ places of origin. Because of American citizens’ opposition to liberalizing immigration,  large potential further reductions in poverty and inequality have not been realized.

Reading allegedly social-scientific accounts of inequality by celebrated economists and political scientists, one would simply not know that nation states are not in fact giant firms with profits (“national income”) to be divvied up into shares to various constituencies. But such a huge conceptual gaffe cannot be the basis of a scientific analysis of a society, which is not a set of people sharing a citizenship, or even the set of people inside some political boundaries, but the actual international system of cooperative interaction we act within every day.

Patriotism and Monogamy

In the comments below, David Stearns asks:

Is there any room left in the concept of ‘patriotism’ for the deep appreciation of the freedoms and independence of thought that the states are at least supposed to embody, and that they do embody in their finer moments?

I don’t think so. Freedom and independence are general features of a place or people and are valuable wherever they occur. I may love America for it’s freedom, but then I should love Canada for its freedom, too. And I do! To love a place because of its general features implies that love may wane or disappear as the manifestation of those valued qualities change. But Patriotism, the love of country, is particularistic. It is a “monogamous” sentiment. If you claim to be an American, Canadian, Danish, and Japanese patriot all at the same time, because you love qualities all these societies excellently exemplify, people will look at you funny. Patriotism requires that you “pick one,” which implies that it is not about the general features of a place, but about special attachment. (Dual citizens may get away with picking two, but that’s just because there are two attachments, and even this is suspect.)

If you meet a women with all the attributes you claim to love about your wife, only better, and you run off with her because of their excellence, then you never really loved your wife. You loved her attributes. You can rightly claim never to have been unfaithful. Indeed, to stay would have made you untrue — to your values. But to fully love a woman, or a country, is to love some one particular thing. Now, it is surely better to love a woman than to love her qualities. But when it comes to countries, it is better by far to give your heart to freedom, and to love countries themselves incidentally and faithlessly.

Seriously, Why Are You Freaking Out?

My comments are teeming with racists good people who believe in the racial and cultural superiority of Americans of European descent clearly terrified by the prospect of the breakdown of Anglo-European cultural hegemony in America. The worry seems to be that with a slightly liberalized immigration regime the U.S. will swiftly devolve into some kind of squalid hell.

Like California?

Califonia Population by Ethnicity

[Click for bigger image.]

Presently, whites are well less than half the Calfornian population. Hispanics make up just more than a third. Asians at 12 percent are nearly double the black population. I’d guess it won’t be long before Hispanics pass whites to become a plurality.

Now, if my fearful commenters aren’t simply making things up in their paranoid dreams, wouldn’t California be a complete disaster already? Of course, we all know that, were it a country, California would be the fifth or sixth largest economy in the world. The median household income in California, $54,385, ranks 11th in the U.S., and would put California right near the top of the world rankings.

No doubt the browning of California has become unpleasant for some white natives. But according to the 2007 United Van Lines internal migration study, California just had another year of decline in out-bound intra-U.S. migration rates, leaving net migration about a wash. And the out-migration that exists is probably more a result of price pressure than white flight, given that California is the most expensive state in the country in which to live. Indeed, the fact that more people don’t leave due to such high costs is an indication of how desirable life in California must be. Arizona, a border state whose population is almost a third Hispanic (and that percentage is swiftly growing), is one of the favorite destinations for internal American migration, and in some recent years has been the favorite. So Arizona, which boasts a median family income right around the national median, is either doing just fine or the many thousands of Americans who move there each year are stupid.

So what gives my xenophobic friends? If the idea is that the U.S. will inevitably slide toward second-world status if the whole place comes to look a lot more like California and Arizona demographically, wouldn’t you expect California and Arizona to be much poorer and much less popular? I mean, given the claims I’m getting from some of you, these places ought to be nightmares. But instead they are … really nice places to live!

Anyway, I can’t say I’m looking forward to the explanation of how it is that, if suddenly cut loose from the Union, an independent California and its half-wit citizens would swiftly vote its way into conditions resembling the slums of Calcutta. But I’m pretty sure it’s coming…

Living for Something Bigger Than Myself: Hating John McCain

In this week’s episode of Free Will over at Bloggingheads TV, Reason chief Matt Welch and I discuss his rollicking, revealing book, McCain: The Myth of a Maverick, and the real man behind the myth. Sadly McCain’s looking like a GOP lock coming into Super Tuesday, and he polls strong nationally against both Clinton and Obama. The man could well become our next president, to the joy of arms manufacturers and the dismay of those of us who do not think a life not devoted to the service of the American state is devoid of purpose. Is that a triple negative? I guess that  goes to show how sour I am on John Sidney McCain III! 

The Idealism of Jackets and Ties

A Day at Cinderella Castle

David Brooks is one of America’s most successful thinkers in much the same way that Thomas Kinkade, painter of light, is one of America’s most successful artists. And Brooks’s column on Teddy K’s endorsement of Obama is artful in much the way “A Day at the Cinderella Castle” is artful.

The respect for institutions that was prevalent during the early ’60s is prevalent with the young again today. The earnest industriousness that was common then is back today. The awareness that we are not self-made individualists, free to be you and me, but emerge as parts of networks, webs and communities; that awareness is back again today.

Sept. 11th really did leave a residue — an unconsummated desire for sacrifice and service.

Got that? The “residue” of 9/11 is not the bitter recognition of how a surge of panic and nationalism can lead to unjust failed wars. The residue is David Brooks’s unconsummated desire for further nationalistic sacrifice, as if all those corpses in Iraq were not, are not, enough. He believes that America’s young, like him, long for a day at the Cinderella castle, which, it should be emphasized, has a dungeon in the basement.

Do you think Kinkade thinks clouds really look like that? Maybe he does. Do you think Brooks really thinks that we are “free to be you and me” only if we are unsocialized atoms? Well, maybe he does, because the way he puts it, we aren’t individuals at all. We — you and me — “emerge as parts of networks, webs and communities.” What you are is a mere part of a larger, grander whole. And if that whole demands your time, your money, your life–demands to consumate its desire for sacrifice and service — who are you to say no? Well, nothing, really. At least not anything distinct, with purposes, plans, and a value of its own. You are it.

The truth is that we emerge from networks, webs, and communities as individuals with a heavily socialized set of ideas and desires. Individualism is an idea about the locus of agency, worth and respect, about how responsible we are, or can be, for our decisions. It is an idea about the uniqueness of individuals, about self-discovery, self-creation and self-expression. These ideas can become embodied in the norms that govern our networks, webs, and communities. A culture can be individualistic. The evidence is that people in individualistic cultures thrive. But for Brooks it is nihilistic, vain, anti-social, empty self-indulgence or the marching “idealism of jackets and ties,” idealism for conformists — for conformist men.