Milton Friedman on illegal immigration

November 9, 2013

Opponents of immigration think of Milton Friedman as a fellow traveler because he believed open borders were incompatible with the welfare state, which they interpret to mean Friedman was opposed to immigration. They may be surprised to learn he said the following:

Friedman: Now, that Mexican immigration, over the border, is a good thing. It’s a good thing for the illegal immigrants. It’s a good thing for the United States. It’s a good thing for the citizens of the country. But, it’s only good so long as its illegal.

In sharp contrast to those who insist they only oppose illegal immigration, Friedman was a rare bird who fully supported illegal immigration. It was only legal immigration that gave him pause.

I am not quoting Friedman here as a celebrity endorsement for my position, as a sort of argument from authority. I’m merely pointing out that his position on immigration was not what most people think it was.

As a matter of fact, Friedman was not an authority on immigration. He wrote about it very sparsely and did not think very much about keyhole solutions to the problem he identified, such as simply denying welfare to immigrants.

A renaissance for Uncle Joe?

July 9, 2012

The United States has never done anything so ghastly as the “Great Purge” in the Soviet Union, in which hundreds of thousands of politically undesirable people were killed in the 1930s. However, you begin to understand why Stalin tired of trials and went straight to executions when you hear a former Congressman favor targeted killings because they avoid courtroom costs.

Andrew Gelman on “Stand Your Ground” laws

July 1, 2012

Andrew Gelman posted the results of a paper arguing that “Stand Your Ground” laws do not reduce crime and in fact increase homicides. Stand Your Ground laws remove your responsibility to retreat from an attacker if you are in a place you have a legal right to be.

I like Andrew’s blog but he said something I found distressing, which was:

Andrew Gelman: … even if Stand Your Ground laws really did increase homicides, I could imagine people still supporting the laws on the grounds that some of these homicides were justifiable.

To which I responded:

I could imagine that also, and they’d be wrong.

You (or whoever defends this) are equivocating between two different senses of “justification,” and that is 1) I am within my rights to do X; and 2) X is good. I am within my rights to shoot someone who I believe is attacking me with deadly force, but this is different from saying it is good that they are shot, because that is false. I am within my rights not to put anything in the collection plate, but this is not good.

Gelman also denies that the intent of Stand Your Ground laws is to reduce homicides, and that it is really aimed at legalizing violence that was once criminal. Other commenters on his site pointed out that Stand Your Ground laws are often sold to the public on the assumption they will deter crime.

Patriotism is artificial

February 5, 2012

One of the arguments I often hear in discussions about immigration and war is that we have special obligations to our countrymen over foreigners. This idea is mysterious to me, since it seems pretty obvious that the distinction between countryman and foreigner is artificial and could not have any moral significance.

To see how it’s artificial, consider the American Civil War. Suppose I live in the state of Georgia. In 1860, I have special obligations to people in the Union. In 1861, the state I live in breaks off from the union and considers itself part of a new country called the Confederate States of America. I assume that my obligations now extend only to those people in the Confederate States, since that is my new country.

Here we see that my obligations to other people depend on choices made by politicians. According to this theory, rights come not from God (as often claimed) but from select men who have the ability to lower the moral status of a person through the stroke of a pen.

Letting die and letting be murdered

January 14, 2012

You’ve probably heard about the act/omission distinction, about how people have different attitudes toward killing someone versus letting them die.

I’d like to break down that “letting die” category further into two sub-categories: letting someone die by failing to save them from a rights violation versus failing to save them from other causes.

An example of the first would be when you allow someone to be murdered. An example of the second would be when you fail to provide them with food or medical care.

Are those two kinds of letting die equally bad? What about if the entity doing the letting is the government?

Suppose the government rearranged its budget so that it stopped putting any money into anti-terrorism efforts and instead sought to eliminate malaria from the world. Is such a move justified as long as we prevent more malaria-related deaths than terrorism-related deaths?

I get the sense that most people think that letting a murder happen is worse than letting someone die of disease, but I don’t know if I share this view.

Law as value signal

December 4, 2011

The government prevents people from engaging in activities even when they do not violate others’ rights. A few examples are drugs, prostitution, gay marriage, kidney-selling and gambling.

Notice that nearly all governments in the world have such paternalistic policies. Notice that nearly all such governments allow emigration to other countries that do not ban drugs, prostitution, gambling, etc. That leaves us with a mystery to solve. Why would the government allow people to leave the country if doing so allowed them to engage in all these sinful activities?

You might say that preventing emigration would be too intrusive into the person’s life. But the government is already intruding into their lives by putting them in jail for doing some of these activities (namely drugs), so it’s hard to believe that it’s freedom we’re worried about.

I suspect that the motivation behind these laws is not a desire to help people but rather a desire to signal the society’s values. If an American wants to use drugs in Amsterdam, that doesn’t bother us so much since we’re not really worried about the drug user but the shame the drug user brings on the rest of us. To legalize drugs, prostitution or gay marriage here would signal that our society approves of such behavior, and we don’t want to think that about our society, and especially ourselves.

Immigration and welfare

November 28, 2011

Many libertarians who support open immigration in theory argue that it is not possible in practice because the United States has a welfare state and that the immigrants would put a strain on taxpayers. This justifies excluding them, they argue.

The fact that some immigrants would impose costs on others through welfare is an argument for excluding them, but not a very good one, for the following reasons: If our goal is to reduce the level of coercion in society, giving welfare to immigrants frustrates that goal, but so does controlling immigration. Even if reducing coercion were all we cared about, the answer to the problem of immigrants on welfare is not straightforward since the solution, restriction, is itself coercive.

Immigrants are not the only people who receive money from the government. Old people, disabled people, young people and just about everyone else receives money from the government, sometimes much more than they pay in taxes. If the political climate does not permit us to cut these benefits, what more can we do to prevent these people from receiving them? Can we prevent a poor woman from having kids so we don’t have to subsidize her children’s education? Can we deport old people before they wrack up expensive medical bills? I would think not.

The fact is that not all forms of coercion are created equal. When someone goes on disability insurance, it does indeed cost someone else money. That doesn’t justify deporting them. Deporting them interferes with their freedom much more than taxing another person to pay for their insurance. That’s what proponents of immigration control should understand. Preventing immigrants from coming to the U.S. to lower taxes replaces a minor injustice with a major one.

Defending the Indefensible

October 29, 2011

Kudos to John Stossel for devoting a show to “Defending the Indefensible” (based on the book by Walter Block called “Defending the Undefendable“) on his Fox Business program. He invited Reason‘s Nick Gillespie and Cato‘s David Boaz on to defend insider trading, price gouging, child labor, human organ sales and a few other unsavory practices. That’s a good start, but I wonder if we could do better.

What are some defensible beliefs that the general public finds unpalatable? For me, it would be legalizing all drugs, eliminating licensures, opening the borders, withdrawing all military bases around the world and prosecuting members of the Bush and Obama Administrations for war crimes.

What about you?

Another voice for Iraq payback

October 21, 2011

First Dana Rohrabacher, and now you too, Michele? I do not understand the logic of making Iraq reimburse the United States. Why is the United States not responsible for the destruction during and subsequent to the invasion? Why is the US not paying reparations?

From anarcho-capitalist to congressman

August 12, 2011

It’s hard to believe that a current member of Congress, Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), was once an anarcho-capitalist. It’s too bad he has become an idiot.


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