What Does America Owe Americans vs. Non-Americans?

 

Researcher Max Roser tweets, “The world population living in extreme poverty fell from 1.85 billion in 1990 to 0.76 billion in 2013.” And that astonishing stat is depicted in the above chart at his Our World in Data site. And as I have frequently written, you can thank globalization. But trade has trade-offs, even if beneficial in the aggregate and for most Americans. For example: Some American communities suffered loss of industry and jobs from the “China trade shock” and never really recovered.

All of which raises an interesting question. What does America owe Americans vs. people who live elsewhere? One view is a sort of strong cosmopolitanism which treats all as equal and having equal claims, no matter on what side a national border they live. Someone holding such a view might, for instance, be particularly sympathetic to the idea of letting very high numbers of immigrants — no matter their education or skill level or impact — enter the country and work. Or redistributing wealth from rich nations to poor, even if it meant higher taxes on the middle class in that rich nation.

Nobel laureate Angus Deaton recently explored this issue of “cosmopolitan prioritarianism,” in an essay:

The globalization that has rescued so many in poor countries has harmed some people in rich countries, as factories and jobs migrated to where labor is cheaper. This seemed to be an ethically acceptable price to pay, because those who were losing were already so much wealthier (and healthier) than those who were gaining. A long-standing cause of discomfort is that those of us who make these judgments are not exactly well placed to assess the costs. Like many in academia and in the development industry, I am among globalization’s greatest beneficiaries – those who are able to sell our services in markets that are larger and richer than our parents could have dreamed of.

Globalization is less splendid for those who not only don’t reap its benefits, but suffer from its impact. We have long known that less-educated and lower-income Americans, for example, have seen little economic gain for four decades, and that the bottom end of the US labor market can be a brutal environment. But just how badly are these Americans suffering from globalization? Are they much better off than the Asians now working in the factories that used to be in their hometowns?

Citizenship comes with a set of rights and responsibilities that we do not share with those in other countries. Yet the “cosmopolitan” part of the ethical guideline ignores any special obligations we have toward our fellow citizens. We can think about these rights and obligations as a kind of mutual insurance contract: We refuse to tolerate certain kinds of inequality for our fellow citizens, and each of us has a responsibility to help – and a right to expect help – in the face of collective threats. These responsibilities do not invalidate or override our responsibilities to those who are suffering elsewhere in the world, but they do mean that if we judge only by material need, we risk leaving out important considerations.

When citizens believe that the elite care more about those across the ocean than those across the train tracks, insurance has broken down, we divide into factions, and those who are left behind become angry and disillusioned with a politics that no longer serves them. We may not agree with the remedies that they seek, but we ignore their real grievances at their peril and ours.

Deaton expanded on his views in a recent EconTalk podcast.

There are 14 comments.

  1. Thatcher

    We don’t “owe” people in other nations anything at all. America should exist for Americans.

    Now, it is often in our interest to help others. And it is decent. But, letting poor people into America because they are poor hurts Americans who are here and that is wrong.

    • #1
    • November 1, 2016 at 12:20 pm
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  2. Member

    Bryan G. Stephens: We don’t “owe” people in other nations anything at all. America should exist for Americans.

    Yeah, that struck me too. America does not owe anything to other people. We are among the most generous people in the world. We offer aid when we can. That is something we do, not something others are owed.

    • #2
    • November 1, 2016 at 12:33 pm
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  3. Inactive

    There are two (at least) problems with the cosmopolitan prioritarianism construction. In no particular order (though an order should be obvious), the construction grants people a claim on others’ property which those people do not have. Also, if we don’t maintain our own economic soundness (which is to say, if we don’t maintain a robust, growing economy and technological development capacity), we’ll shortly be in no position to help anyone else (much less ourselves), even could a case be made that we owe any such help.

    And a practical problem with international wealth redistribution through taxation: there’s no guarantee the money actually would reach the targeted folks and not the government “intermediaries” and their cronies.

    Eric Hines

    • #3
    • November 1, 2016 at 12:52 pm
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  4. Podcaster

    What does America “owe” the rest of the world?

    LCPL Jourdan Grez FuneralNot a damned thing.

    • #4
    • November 1, 2016 at 1:27 pm
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  5. Member

    We owe them nothing but our good will.

    • #5
    • November 1, 2016 at 1:39 pm
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  6. Member

    No, no, no. there are only 7.4 billion people in the world. There is plenty of room the the US. We are “Stronger Together”.

    • #6
    • November 1, 2016 at 1:54 pm
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  7. Inactive

    cosmopolitan prioritarianism.

    This is the same logic employed by the mugger. You have stuff I want. I’m going to make you give me yours.

    The mugger uses a weapon. The cosmopolitan prioritarianist uses government. Otherwise no difference at all.

    • #7
    • November 1, 2016 at 3:12 pm
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  8. Inactive

    The thing I find amazing is that there is a questions here, a debate. I knew doctoral programs were day care for high functioning people with no social connection, but this takes the cake.

    Useful idiots for those who make serious cash on the rape of the citizenry.

    • #8
    • November 1, 2016 at 6:06 pm
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  9. Member

    Ekosj: The mugger uses a weapon. The cosmopolitan prioritarianist uses government. Otherwise no difference at all.

    I have more respect for the mugger, at least he’s risking something.

    • #9
    • November 1, 2016 at 6:19 pm
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  10. Inactive

    Kozak:

    Ekosj: The mugger uses a weapon. The cosmopolitan prioritarianist uses government. Otherwise no difference at all.

    I have more respect for the mugger, at least he’s risking something.

    Not necessarily. Mugger attacks my wife, he’s not risking anything. The outcome is certain, no risk, and it ain’t favorable for him.

    Eric Hines

    • #10
    • November 1, 2016 at 7:16 pm
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  11. Contributor

    One view is a sort of strong cosmopolitanism which treats all as equal and having equal claims, no matter on what side a national border they live.

    It is one thing to say that everyone has an equal claim on the right to prosper, but quite another to say they have a right to prosper wherever they wish. The Strong Cosmopolitans are also keen to make sure that neighborhoods are demographically diverse, something I heard once described as “the right to live wherever you wish at any stage of your life.” Any economic barrier was equated with discrimination, simply because market-rate housing resulted in neighborhoods differentiated by the earning power of their inhabitants.

    Their ideal world is subsidized housing next to a $3 million lakefront property. Because that is fair.

    Someone holding such a view might, for instance, be particularly sympathetic to the idea of letting very high numbers of immigrants — no matter their education or skill level or impact — enter the country and work. Or redistributing wealth from rich nations to poor, even if it meant higher taxes on the middle class in that rich nation.

    They probably have convinced themselves that they believe this would have an effect, eventually, but if you got them full of Merlot they would also admit that if the project simply lowered the standard of living for the Middle Class in the West, that would be okay. The Middle Class does not spend wisely, preferring resource-consuming houses and transportation modes that A) hurt the planet, B) prevent the efficient gathering of citizens in dense urban areas, and C) just annoy the [bleep] out of the Enlightened, because they hate those people.

    I mean, allow them to have a one-car garage, and they’ll want one that holds three. They’re beyond reason, and need to be controlled.

    • #11
    • November 1, 2016 at 9:55 pm
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  12. Member

    James Pethokoukis: Some American communities suffered loss of industry and jobs from the “China trade shock” and never really recovered.

    The percentage of the US population employed in manufacturing peaked in 1947, and has been on the decline ever since.

    Tales about communities losing their big employer have been told since at least the 1960s. The Deer Hunter. Slapshot. Gung Ho. Etc. Etc. Etc. These stories are all from long before China became an economic player.

    Yes, “some” American communities have suffered loss due to trade with China. How many? Really, how many?

    Trade, with China or anybody else, is not the biggest killer of North American jobs. Not by a long shot. The biggest killers are federal regulations, minimum wage laws, and union protectionism.

    • #12
    • November 2, 2016 at 4:23 pm
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  13. Member

    What Does America Owe Americans vs. Non-Americans?

    Strict enforcement of the border.

    Legal immigration levels can be determined by the representatives of a republic. If the rate is too high or too low for some reason, those people can be voted out of office.

    However, the voters and citizens can do nothing about illegal immigrants except use their First Amendment freedom of speech rights, and there are even complaints about this such as even using the term illegal immigrant.

    As many illegal immigrants should be removed as possible.

    Politicians have to learn to think about immigration like protecting their own home. Legal immigrants are guests. Illegal immigrants are intruders who pose great risk.

    • #13
    • November 3, 2016 at 4:42 am
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  14. Podcaster

    The Disciplinary Committee: The percentage of the US population employed in manufacturing peaked in 1947, and has been on the decline ever since.

    That’s a bad benchmark year. We are talking less than a year into full reconstruction after the most devastating war the planet has seen.

    • #14
    • November 3, 2016 at 8:46 am
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