Tuesday, March 27, 2018

More on the sad state of the libertarian movement: immigration

A libertarian friend of mine has objected to my complaints about the sad state of the libertarian movement.   He argues that what's happening is that libertarianism is expanding in acceptance, and that as more people adopt the ideas, there are necessarily a few more kooks, and I'm just picking up the kooks, the outliers.  I'm skeptical.  I don't know if libertarianism is expanding in acceptance, but I definitely don't think I'm simply highlighting outliers; my previous post seems to me to focus on important, high-profile libertarians.  Maybe they are outliers, but if so, they in are highly influential positions.

My friend particularly took issue with my characterization of Cato's "Immigration Expert" (Cato's words), Alex Nowrasteh, and sent me a video of Nowrasteh speaking at a small midwestern college.  Eventually I will watch the thing, but I've read a lot of Nowrasteh's stuff and found it quite shallow. In the stuff I've read, Nowrasteh makes empirical claims that are doubtful at best, and logical inferences that don't hold.  This is a good case study of why I think too many of today's libertarian spokesmen are bad representatives of libertarianism.  Here are two examples from Nowrasteh's writing.

1. During 2015 ("Syrian" refugee invasion of Europe) he argued for the U.S. taking in numbers of  "Syrian" refugees similar to Germany.  (That's one million or more; I use quotation marks because according to Eurostat, only a plurality of the immigrants were actually Syrian.  Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Africa were all important sources.) That is, libertarian Nowrasteh proposed that the United States take in and settle one million unvetted and unvettable "Syrians." 

There are so many ways in which that's a bad idea it's hard to count them. But let's look at a few.

 i. Daesh and Al Qaeda both infiltrated these groups.  Presumably it's bad for liberty to bring squads of Islamist terrorists into the country, right?

ii. The "Syrian" refugees were all Muslims from traditional societies.  Overwhelming majorities in these societies favor things such as sharia as the basis of all law, death or other severe penalties for apostasy and blasphemy, etc.  They don't accept equal rights for women, and they don't think much of gay rights either.  Bring in one person who believes this nonsense and he'll likely cave in and adopt local customs and ideas.  Bring in one million en masse, have them settled by lefty social workers who feed them the multiculturalist line that "assimilation is racism" and they'll demand everyone else accommodate them.  That's bad for liberty, right?

iii. The "Syrian" refugees who entered Germany had lower levels of education than the average German, and it turns out that a year of Syrian education isn't equivalent to a year of German education -- it's worse.   The refugees prove to be relatively unproductive and in need of substantial taxpayer support.  In the United States, refugees are supported by the HHS Office of Refugee Settlement, which provides taxpayer funds for housing, education, health care, auto purchases, spending money, etc.  That's bad for liberty, right?  Yes, bad for the productive people paying taxes, that is, for Americans.

There -- three good reasons for opposing bringing in one million unvetted Muslim refugees.  Terrorists would infiltrate, this would be one million people who oppose libertarianism and Western liberalism, and they'd require substantial subsidy from taxpayers.  

2. Nowrasteh is one of the people who have made and promoted the "bathtub argument" fallacy (one is 1000 times more likely to die falling in bathtub than from terrorism, so concerns about terrorism from unvetted refugees are overblown).  I might be mistaken, but I think he's even something of a pioneer in this line of foolishness. It's hard to imagine a more ridiculous argument, or more inept use of statistical reasoning.   Again, just a few reasons:

i. Bathtubs are not plotting to raise their death count.  Terrorists are.

ii. Death counts from terrorism would be much higher, except that we spend billions and take all sorts of interdiction measures.

iii. Each of us can effectively controls our exposure to bathtub risk.  If one is worried, non-slip mats, safety rails, and even avoiding bathtubs are within one's power.  But if the government listens to Nowrasteh and opens the borders to anyone, no questions asked, or if the government settles a large number of irritable foreigners next to us, what are we to do?

iv. The fallacy confuses physical phenomena, mere physical causality, with teleology.  Terrorism is purposeful.  Any human being understands the difference between accidentally bashing your head in, and having someone bashing your head in for you.  Nowrasteh apparently doesn't... that is, when other people are involved, of course.  He's doing analysis that might be suitable for a "society" of homo economici, or robots, but not for human beings.

v. Along these lines, death toll isn't even the right measure for effects of terror.  Terrorism is a political tool; it is designed to shape political behavior, and death toll is besides the point.  It's designed to scare survivors and change their behavior, and it works.  No MSM outlet will print the Danish cartoons. Charlie Hebdo stopped printing Mohammed cartoons.  Bathtub accidents don't change our institutions or threaten our freedom.  Terrorism does.

vi. There's a second reason death toll isn't the right measure.  Successful terrorism destroys Trade Centers, shuts down subway systems, closes tunnels, knocks out electrical grids, and even unsuccessful terrorism can shut down transport systems.  Bathtub accidents don't.

Bathtubs don't kill people, but terrorists do, Alex.

OK, but I agree, any single person such as Nowrasteh, is beside the point. It's the overall pattern I'm seeing that disturbs me. It disturbs me when I hear libertarians dismiss people who disagree with the open borders line as nativists or racists or statists or just ignorant folks who ought to worry more more about bathtubs... that bothers me. To me, it means libertarians have lost interest in dealing with real world problems, at least in any genuinely reasonable way.

Here's another example - Dr. Chandran Kukathas  (LSE political scientist, department head, libertarian, who occasionally works w Cato, IHS, etc.) wrote a piece reposted by FEE arguing that immigration control logically implies setting up internal controls to monitor and control everyone in a country, citizen and non-citizen alike, and compared it to South Africa during apartheid.  (I previously discussed this here.)

OK.  I just wanted to think about how we might stop Hezbollah assassins or Daesh bombing teams from entering the country.  Suddenly I'm told that therefore, logically I'm promoting 24/7 monitoring of every citizen, internal passports and checkpoints, etc.  And the only alternative is completely open borders? There's no middle ground? 

If I am skeptical of bringing in one million "Syrian" refugees, that's equivalent to sending a boatload of Jewish refugees back to death camps in Nazi Germany?  (So said David Bier, at the time with the Niskanen Center, but subsequently hired by Cato as an "expert," as their site puts it.)

One can respond that Kukathas or Nowrasteh & Bier are outliers (Nowrasteh & Bier are the two people Cato lists as their immigration experts). Fine.  I'm willing to accept that argument, although they seem pretty high profile for outliers, but let's grant that.  So then who are the reasonable middle ground libertarians on this?  It's not a rhetorical question.  I've asked my friend, and I'll see how he responds.

That's just one issue, but it's a good example of why recent libertarians have often bothered me, and why I doubt they really care about liberty.  

That makes sense, doesn't it?  Comments welcome.

Update: I never received a response.
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