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.

Mr. Show commercial

August 11, 2011

I don’t have much to say today, other than that you should watch this advertisement for Mr. Show, a series on HBO in the mid-1990s that is one of my favorite TV comedies.

Okay, stop throwing around “terrorist”

August 10, 2011

Instead of accusing our opponents of supporting “terrorism,” I propose a moratorium on the word. Let us all agree to take the time to explain why the support of this or that group is so bad. The article I link to does a pretty good job of that.

Rumsfeld can be sued for torture

August 9, 2011

I have a number of questions about law after reading this article from the Christian Science Monitor: Appeals court allows US citizens’ torture suit against Rumsfeld

Former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld may be held personally responsible in a civil lawsuit for the alleged torture of two American citizens held without charge in a US military prison in Iraq in 2006, a federal appeals court ruled on Monday.

That sounds like a positive development.

Government lawyers argued that the suit must be dismissed based on rulings in earlier cases by appeals courts in New York and Washington, D.C. The Chicago-based appeals court panel said the Vance/Ertel lawsuit was different because the two earlier decisions involved noncitizens.

Why does that matter?

[Judge Hamilton] added: “The wrongdoing alleged here violates the most basic terms of the constitutional compact(Ed. note: WTF?) between our government and the citizens of this country…. There can be no doubt that the deliberate infliction of such treatment on US citizens, even in a war zone, is unconstitutional.”

That’s funny, I don’t remember signing that compact.

While I whole-heartedly agree that the plaintiffs should have the right to sue Rumsfeld for their torture, I’m at a loss as to why that right is not extended to non-citizens. Can someone help me out?

Gibberish that passes for American English

August 8, 2011

From my friend Grant Olson: What American English sounds like to non-English speakers.

These Italians appear to be imitating Bob Dylan’s style of singing. Does he sing like a typical American?

By the way, a few years ago I saw a video on youtube of a man faking several foreign languages such as Spanish, French, German, Italian and Russian. He’s just speaking gibberish, but if you don’t know the language it sounds like he’s really speaking that language. I cannot find the video on youtube. Has anyone seen the video I’m talking about?

Has the Peace Corps been a success?

August 7, 2011

I consider myself a libertarian, which means I think very little of what the government does is justified. However, one government program that is at least somewhat justifiable is the Peace Corps. Forcing a person to pay taxes to support America’s wars strikes me as much more morally problematic than forcing them to support truly destitute people, as the Peace Corps does. 

That said, one of my favorite libertarians, James Bovard, wrote an essay last week questioning the achievements of the Peace Corps. Bovard argues that Peace Corps volunteers do not improve the conditions of the locals they live with:

James Bovard: Throughout Latin America, volunteers were sometimes referred to as “vagos” — Spanish for “vagabonds.” A Brazilian development expert concluded in a Peace Corps-commissioned study in 1968, “As economic developers, Volunteers have not had any lasting impact on any community. They are more efficient spokesmen for their interests than … for the poor.” One Latin American government official complained to a Peace Corps auditor in 1968, “The Volunteers I have known recently — with one exception — are not helping us at all. They created problems for us.”

In an article published on Campus Progress in 2008 called “Reevaluating the Peace Corps,” Peace Corps veteran Adam J. Welti raises similar questions about the organization’s role:

Today the Peace Corps has two main objectives: to provide physical and technical labor to countries that may not have enough trained workforce and to promote cross-cultural understanding between Americans and locals. These two objectives often cause a tension within the organization. Is it more important to provide labor where labor is needed, or to send grassroots ambassadors to strengthen America’s relationships with other countries?

Welti interviewed Ed Rowley and John Roberts, both former volunteers and country directors with the Peace Corps, to answer that question.

“In general we need to do a lot of work to change the world’s image of the United States. Peace Corps can be part of that—in terms of showing the world that America isn’t only about military power,” said Warren.

“Peace Corps is probably the most effective tool ever invented for people to people interactions. Any development contributions are icing on the cake,” said Roberts, who served in Somalia.

I’d like to hear from other Peace Corps veterans on these issues, namely: 1) Have Peace Corps volunteers had a lasting impact on the villages they serve? and 2) Is the purpose of the organization principally to promote development or improve the United States’ reputation?

One fewer reason to watch Lawrence O’Donnell

August 4, 2011

Dear Lawrence O’Donnell:

It’s one thing to launch an ad hominem attack against your ideological foes at Reason Magazine for their coverage of the “Save Our Schools Rally.”  It’s another thing entirely when your ad hominem attack is not even true.

Yours truly,

Andrew Michael Hallman

The low down is that O’Donnell showed Reason’s coverage of the event on his show on MSNBC and then went into a tirade because “right-wing websites” (a category in which he includes Reason, much to the surprise of its staff) scrutinize teachers but never police officers. The claim is especially odd given that Reason dedicated the whole of its July issue to the criminal justice system, which included several stories criticizing police.

Lemonade stands shutdown during RAGBRAI

August 3, 2011

Coralville Police shutdown several children’s lemonade stands.

Bobbie Nelson said she laughed when a police officer told her that a permit to sell lemonade would cost $400.

And here’s the kicker:

“It was never our intent to shut down kid’s lemonade stands,” [Councilor Mitch] Gross said. “We never really thought about it.”

Behold the awesome unintended consequences of law.

The conservative case for liberal immigration

May 21, 2011

The leading opponents of immigration are conservatives. I find this especially striking because immigration controls run afoul of conservatives’ most basic principles. I present here an argument that immigration control is immoral as currently practiced. I argue that immigration should be greatly liberalized to allow in many more people. I also explain how this position is consistent with conservatism.

Non-aggression principle
A large part of the reason that conservatives wrongly support immigration control is confusion over what immigration control is. Immigration control is often referred to as “defending the border” and the illegal immigrants are referred to as “invaders.” This is a mistake. To defend something, you must own it. And to invade a place, you must gain access to it through force. Are the people who talk this way suggesting that the land in America is owned by the government? Since conservatives value private property and individual rights, they should be among the last people to advance such a position.

To complete the idea, illegal immigrants do not apply force to anyone upon crossing the border. It is the government that is applying force to the immigrants. The appropriate characterization of immigration control is therefore aggression.

This leads me to the first reason conservatives should support open borders: it is consistent with the non-aggression principle, a principle which is central to conservatism. The non-aggression principle states that it is wrong to initiate force against another person. Since immigration control is the initiation of force against another, it is wrong.

Deaths on the border
The second reason to support open borders is that immigration control unjustly imposes significant harms on immigrants. The most damning piece of evidence on this point is the number of immigrants who have died attempting to cross the southern border. In the 1990s, the U.S. implemented heightened immigration controls in populated areas along the border around San Diego and El Paso. This pushed the flow of illegal immigrants toward the desert and mountains. The effect of this push was to substantially increase the number of migrants who died crossing the border.

In 1994, the year prior to this enhanced enforcement in San Diego, 23 migrants died attempting to cross into California. According to data from the Mexican Ministry of Foreign Relations, that number had risen to 140 deaths in 2000. The American Civil Liberties Union released a report in 2009 which estimated there were more than 5,000 migrant deaths in the prior 15 years on the U.S.-Mexico border. Evidence from Mexican Consulates shows a dramatic rise in the 1990s in the number of immigrants who died of “environmental causes” such as hypothermia, dehydration and heat stroke, all a result of the U.S. government’s efforts to push migrants to remote areas.

Migration and poverty
Why would so many immigrants take such risks just to enter another country? The answer becomes obvious when you look at their prospects. Michael Clemens is a researcher at the Center for Global Development and focuses on how international migration affects those in the developing world. For many of the Earth’s inhabitants, moving to the United States means leaving a life of poverty for one of prosperity. Clemens and his colleagues Claudio Montenegro and Lant Pritchett analyzed a data set of 2 million workers from 42 developing countries to look for factors that would alter a person’s wages in those countries. They found that people from the developing world can expect their wages to double simply by immigrating to the United States. A Peruvian’s wages are 2.6 times greater upon entering America and a Haitian’s wages jump an astonishing seven-fold. An even more amazing figure is that, of 100 Mexicans who have escaped poverty ($10 a day), 43 of them have done so by immigrating to the United States. Of 100 Haitians who have escaped poverty, 82 accomplished the feat in the land of the free.

(Watch Clemens’ talk on immigration here.)

Objections so far
Conservatives may object to the preceding paragraphs on the grounds that we can’t take care of everyone in the world. “How can you expect me to care about thousands or even millions of complete strangers?” they ask. I don’t. Conservatives often talk about immigration as if the U.S. is doing a favor to the immigrant by letting him in. It is not. Respecting someone’s rights is not an act of charity. It gives him what he is owed. I do not expect other people to pay for my groceries. I do expect them not to block me from entering the store. If you want to say that you have no obligation to financially support immigrants, you are correct. You do, however, have an obligation to stay out of their way if they’re not hurting anyone.

All of this is perfectly consistent with mainstream conservative moral philosophy. Conservatives differ in where “rights” or “moral worth” come from. Some think they come from God, while others think they flow from certain characteristics of human beings. As far as I know, none of them thinks moral worth comes from government. That immigrants are foreigners therefore does not diminish their moral worth.

Skeptics will point out that, so far, I have only mentioned the effect of immigration and immigration control on immigrants. What is the effect of immigration on other people, such as those in the receiving country? Luckily, there is plenty of evidence to answer that question. Before we look at the data, we know at least this much: immigration control is terrible for immigrants. It unjustly coerces them and makes their lives much worse. Therefore, to justify immigration control, the effect of immigration on other people would have to be catastrophic. For instance, if the presence of immigrants caused the native population to die out in great numbers, that would be a persuasive argument against immigration. In fact, this very scenario occurred when European settlers immigrated to North America.

So what do the data say about immigrants in the U.S.?

A common fear is that immigrants are more prone to commit crime than the native-born population. There is some evidence that suggests the opposite is true. University of Colorado Sociologist Tim Wadsworth published a study in 2009 which looked at correlations between violent crime and other factors in America’s largest cities between 1990 and 2000. He found that when poverty increased in a city, the incidence of homicide and robbery rose with it. The same was true for divorce rates. Wadsworth then turned his focus to immigration, and found that cities that experienced greater growth in immigrant populations showed sharp declines in homicide and robbery rates.

To quote Wadsworth, “The suggestion that high levels of immigration may have been partially responsible for the drop in crime during the 1990s seems plausible.”

Another common objection to immigration is the supposed burden immigrants place on government services. This is of particular interest to conservatives, who want to reduce taxes and the role of the welfare state. But data from the Social Security Administration indicate that immigrants pay in more money than they receive from that system. In 2002, the Social Security Administration reported it received $56 billion from people who used incorrect Social Security numbers on their W-2 forms and estimated that three quarters of the incorrect numbers were from illegal immigrants. The money generated from illegal immigrants’ Social Security taxes made up 10 percent of the administration’s surplus that year.

Immigrants have very little effect on the wages of native workers. I could quote plenty of studies that show this, but just any old study won’t do. Let’s look at the data the opponents of immigration marshal in their defense. Harvard economist George Borjas is among the leading critics of immigration in academia. In his textbook “Labor Economics,” Borjas provides figures for the effect of immigrants on native-born wages. Borjas finds that the long-run effect of immigrants on native wages is exactly 0.0 percent. In fact, he finds that immigrants increase the long-run wages of high school graduates by 1.2 percent. What do immigrants do that is so horrible that they must be denied a vastly better life in America? According to Borjas, they decrease the wages of high school drop-outs by 4.8 percent. This is why 400,000 illegal immigrants are deported every year: to ensure a modest increase in the wages of the low-skilled native population.

Economist Giovanni Peri at the University of California-Davis has criticized Borjas for assuming native and immigrant labor are interchangeable. Peri argues they are not. Natives and immigrants differ in their language skills, so when immigrants arrive they push natives from non-language intensive jobs to ones where a command of English is required. Peri believes that Borjas is overestimating the effect immigrants have on depressing native wages, because the two groups aren’t competing for the same jobs. According to Peri’s research, immigrants are a net wash for low-skilled natives’ wages and are a positive effect for everyone else’s.

In the first few paragraphs, I established a presumption in favor of immigration by showing that it is immensely good for the immigrants and that efforts to control it are immensely bad. This alone did not prove that it was the correct policy. We needed to look at the effect of immigration on the rest of society. Far from producing disastrous results, the evidence suggested that immigrants were mostly beneficial to U.S. natives. From this we can conclude that immigration control is indefensible as currently practiced and that the only moral position is to accept far more immigrants than are now allowed in.

Editor’s note:

Those who enjoyed this column may also enjoy Bryan Caplan’s lecture, Immigration Restrictions: A Solution in Search of a Problem, and Michael Huemer’s essay, Is There a Right to Immigrate?