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It was very nice of Mark Krikorian to mention me and my recent post during the last Ricochet Flagship podcast. If you’re interested, here is the podcast, and the relevant section can be found starting around the 55:00 mark.
I need to respond to a few things Mark said. First, I’m not a member of the “political class,” and if their position is at all similar to mine, that people should be able to move freely across borders, well that’s news to me. Would that it were so! If it were, frankly, we wouldn’t be having the problems we’re having with this. It’s not a lack of action on the part of the government to exclude people that’s causing problems, rather its the federal government’s byzantine immigration system that in no way matches reality. This graphic from the good people at Reason gives you a good idea of what the system looks like. The government’s legal immigration system has the efficiency and rationality of the VA or the Post Office. (When I ran that graphic by a friend of mine, now back in England because she left when she was asked to, she dismissed it as oversimplified.) Small wonder people, when faced with an non-functional immigration system choose to avoid the system all together.
In the podcast Mark says:
The core issue that we need to debate: Do the American people have the right to decide who comes into our country?
He also said that my suggestion that there shouldn’t be a limit on the number of immigrants to the United States means that I believe:
that foreigners should be able to decide how many people move to the United States.
That’s a nice little bit of immigration restrictionist populism. I’m sure stuff like that plays well. But it falls apart on upon critical examination and it is certainly not the position I hold.
First of all, we need to keep in mind that immigration is a public policy question. We are not discussing holy writ. Immigrants do not violate the sanctity of our nation. This is also not an existential question. American society, pluralistic and free, has always absorbed and assimilated immigrants, including in large numbers. Letting immigrants into the United States does not mean the end of America, or mom or apple pie.
Second, Mark talks about “the American people” deciding this issue. There isn’t one “the American people.” There’s groups of people and there are individuals. Politics too often consists of one of those groups deciding something and forcing their decision on everyone else.
Frankly, I don’t see things in those terms. I’m not a collectivist. I’m an individualist. Rather than groups of people making decisions and forcing them on other groups, as an individualist who believes in individual rights, I see things as an imposition on the rights of the individual.
I see things through the lens of individual rights because there are only individual rights. The idea of group rights is an absurdity. No group has the right to keep arms. The individuals in that group have the right. There is not group right to vote. The individual has that right. (This is not to say that when groups of citizens band together they don’t have rights, they do, but the rights are individual. If I form a corporation or a union, my right to free speech doesn’t go away. But that corporation only has free speech rights inasmuch as the individuals who own it have those rights.)
To that, I don’t see it as a question of “the American people” deciding such and such. I see individuals deciding things. If you open things up to collective decision making, there is no end to the bright ideas that the collective can claim moral authority to regulate. Don’t the American people have right to decide how big sodas should be? Don’t the American people have the right to decide who owns Rockefeller Center? Don’t the American people have the right to decide what color shirt everyone should wear? Don’t the American people have the right to decide what kind of cars should be sold in America? Don’t the American people have the right to decide who can say what on the radio?
When you claim to be speaking with the voice of “the American people,” when you claim to be speaking with the voice of the public will, for the public good, for the good of the nation, you can reach the point where you can rationalize anything.
The alternative is the individual view, the market view. Markets function because individuals make choices based on the conditions of their individual lives. Rather than some group forcing their views on people, its individuals making choices. The result is the aggregate of those choices.
So it’s not “the American people” (in this case meaning the small but vocal crowd of immigration restrictionists) deciding how many people come to America. (A number, by the way, which, even it it could be rationally calculated for an optimal utilitarian number, which it can’t, would be based not on that number but on politics.) But rather its market conditions, meaning individuals making the decisions on when to move and where and why.
History is replete with examples that when central planning, is compared to free markets, the free markets produce superior results. And results are best when capital and goods and ideas and, yes, labor, are allowed to flow freely
So it’s not those scary foreigners deciding how many people who get to move to American, but rather individuals and their individual interactions that, in the aggregate, decide what will happen.Published in