Buy American = Buy White

Steve Landsburg has an excellent article in Forbes pointing out that the policy to "buy American" should be as repugnant as former policies to "buy white":

Both major parties (and most of the minor ones) are infested with protectionist fellow travelers who would discriminate on the basis of national origin no less virulently than David Duke or any other overt racist would discriminate on the basis of skin color. But if racism is morally repugnant-and it is-then so is xenophobia, and for exactly the same reasons.

Amen, brother.

This seems to me like a typical example of how it is the hard heads whose advice is most likely to lead us to the goals which soft hearts advocate. The poor need markets to become rich - and almost none of the world's poor are found within US borders. It is a great pity that more compassionate people don't direct their efforts in the directions and through the methods that will accomplish the most.

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Dadahead, I agree with your

Dadahead, I agree with your point, and I'll talk about that in a moment. But first, you should note that in the original article, Landsburg distinguishes between legitimate and illegitimate forms of nationalism.

First: Yes, the U.S. government is elected by Americans to serve Americans. There was a time when a lot of southern sheriffs could have said they'd been elected by white citizens to serve white citizens. It does not follow that it's okay to run roughshod over the rights of everyone else.

Second: Defense and interstate highways are great collective undertakings. We pay for them through our taxes. It makes sense that those who pay the costs should reap the benefits. It is no more inappropriate for the U.S. Army to defend Americans instead of Peruvians than it is for Burger King to provide food for Burger King customers instead of McDonald's customers.

But the labor market isn't like that at all. When General Motors hires an American in Detroit or a Mexican in Ciudad Juarez, the rest of us are not footing the bill. And that makes it none of our business. Nor should we want it to be.

Okay, now on to my own position. I don't accept this distinction. I did not ask to participate in these "great collective undertakings" any more than a Canadian or an Brazilian did. And there may be a great many Canadians and Brazilians who would be willing to pay the U.S. government taxes in exchange for these services.

I don't accept the argument that government provision of "public goods" are morally equivalent to private provision of hamburgers. Even those who believe that governments are necessary or desirable for the provision of public goods must recognize that there are important categorical differences: one involves voluntary choice, the other involves involuntary coercion.

So I would personally take an even stronger position than Landsburg. All forms of nationalism are morally equivalent to racism, and that includes everything from protectionism to military defense. Thus, all forms of government (except a single world government, which I reject for other reasons) are necessarily equivalent to racism.

I don't disagree with your

I don't disagree with your point here, but people should keep in mind that if nationalism is akin to racism, then the comparison holds across the board -- not just with regard to trade, but also militarily and diplomatically. That is: it is wrong to favor the 'interests' of the U.S. over those of any other country.

I think the motivation

I think the motivation behind Buy American is different than the motivation behind a hypothetical Buy White campaign. A Buy White campaign would likely be motivated by simple naked racism. A Buy American campaign would likely be motivated by beliefs about keeping the American economy strong and keeping economic power here. Those beliefs are based on bad economics or misplaced patriotism but not irrational hatred.

- Josh

"I think the motivation

"I think the motivation behind Buy American is different than the motivation behind a hypothetical Buy White campaign. A Buy White campaign would likely be motivated by simple naked racism. A Buy American campaign would likely be motivated by beliefs about keeping the American economy strong and keeping economic power here. Those beliefs are based on bad economics or misplaced patriotism but not irrational hatred."

Couldn't Buy White campaigns be about keeping the White economy strong, and keeping whites in economic power?

Josh, I liked RadGeek's

Josh,

I liked RadGeek's response to your type of objection:

I think that everyone who is against open borders is against it for bigoted reasons; that’s because there are no non-bigoted reasons to oppose open borders. They aren’t necessarily racist or nativist reasons (there are imaginable immigration policies that are based on socioeconomic class or sexuality or religion rather than race or nationality, for example), but I take it that the general claim of bigotry is what you’re interested in rather than its specific application in claims of racism or nativism.

Does advocating something for bigoted reasons always make you a bigot? I don’t know. Maybe in one sense and not in another sense. I don’t care much anyway.

So everyone who opposes open borders is, therefore, advocating a policy for bigoted reasons

RadGeek defines a bigot as one who is irrationally (unreasonably, unjustifiably) and strongly partial to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and is intolerant of those who differ.

Now, I suppose there may be some people who incorrectly believe in protectionism, not only for the selfish and bigoted reason that protectionism will make Americans better off, but for the egalitarian reason that protectionism will make everybody better off, including foreigners. In my experience, though, most of those who tell us to "Buy American" don't believe that this makes non-Americans better off too.

Micha says, "All forms of

Micha says,

"All forms of nationalism are morally equivalent to racism, and that includes everything from protectionism to military defense. Thus, all forms of government (except a single world government, which I reject for other reasons) are necessarily equivalent to racism."

I am severely anti-protectionist, especially when it comes to economic protectionism. However, I think that you are off-base here, Micha. Your assertion necessitates the condition that all the cultures in the world are equal in terms of natural rights. This is obviously untrue. Our constitutional republic (its current uber-flawed form notwithstanding) was formed as a defense against the oppressive governmental structures in the rest of the world. It was formed as a sort of refuge for freedom, a protector of natural human rights against the unnatural intervention and aggression around the world.

This is precisely why there is a difference between nationalistic economic protectionism and national defense against outside aggressors. It is not bigoted, in any way, shape, or form, to stand up and defend ourselves against the aggression of anti-liberty forces, inside or outside our borders. To say that anti-liberty and pro-liberty cultures are "equal" in terms of natural human rights is an exercise in moral relativism. In this light, there is no justification for labeling a murderer as worse than a charity worker. Moral relativism. In terms of natural rights, there is a better and a worse. No, there is no "best", but there are better and worse.

And to say that defending against anti-liberty forces is to be "bigoted" against them...that is tantamount to claiming that, by defending yourself against a would-be murderer in the park, you are being bigoted against pro-murderers.

Defending against "worse" (in terms of natural rights) cultural aggression, even erecting a constitutional republic as a refuge against these "worse" aggressors, is not "irrational", any more than defending yourself from a rapist is "irrational". In terms of natural rights, there are "better" and "worse" forms of human society, and it is not "bigoted" to prefer the better over the worse, nor is it "bigoted" to defend the better from the worse (even if it is with a constitutional framework).

Our government has, admittedly, grown from a protector of liberty to a bloated aggressor in and of itself. But this does not cancel out the original intent of the consitutional republic. And the difference between it and economic protectionism lies in the fact that the true free market cannot distinguish between better and worse. It is all one big family, transcending boundaries of natural rights.

The idea that the government is here to protect the "interests" of those people who are "citizens", even if it is at the expense of non-citizens, is bunk. Its pure duty is to protect the rights of its citizens against aggressors. Economic protectionism favors the "interests" of the citizens, while military defense (ideally) favors the "rights" of the citizens. There is a difference---and, again, the latter (ideally) is not bigoted. And, of course, we can only speak in ideals here.

Rad Geek: "I think there are

Rad Geek:

"I think there are good reasons to favor a “thick” version of libertarianism (which requires strict adherence to the non-aggression principle, but which also calls for ethical and political commitments other than just non-aggression). For a start on the argument for that conclusion, see Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?."

Yes, I was in the audience in Boston when you and Roderick presented this paper in December. Time for questions and discussion was, as ever, too short but I did get in the point that these 'thick' versions of libertarianism lead into error. Hoppe, as you correctly identified, errs in spreading the bread of libertarianism with a thick layer of 'conservative' jam but it seems to me that you and Roderick are making an equivalent error when you stir in a cornflour of egalitarianism to thicken the thin gruel of libertarianism. My point is that these adulterations of libertarianism spoil it's natural bland flavour, the great virtue of which is that it leaves others to freely choose to add their own (non-agressive) cultural/ideological ingredients. (Please forgive the extended culinary metaphor).

I am a very much enamoured of the thin versions of libertarianism and a similarly thin version of morality. Both do best when they sketch out the limiting side constraints of action and leave the widest possible area free for each to maximally enjoy our chosen behaviour. It is asking far too much of people to demand that their preferences must be 'rationally justifiable' in order to count as moral, indeed I don't think that such a standard can even be coherent. We accept readily enough that when choosing sleeping partners we can be as 'irrational' or as 'bigoted' as we like in choosing whom to let enter our bodies or whose bodies we choose to enter. By extention I think the same applies to our non-corporeal property. So if someone wishes to open a nightclub for gay men only or a country club for WASP's only or establish a town only for Welsh speaking Hindus nothing unlibertarian nor, I contend, even immoral is committed thereby.

By 'thickening' libertarianism, either in the direction of conservatism, as Hoppe does, or in the direction of egalitarianism, as you do and insisting that these additions are required by appeals to 'traditional morals' or 'rational justification' you succeed only in prejudiciously and peremptorily crowding out whole swathes of actions and behaviours, limiting the liberty that people can enjoy and the benefits in progress and advances in knowledge that could be gleaned from allowing such lifestyles to flourish.

In short, I think that 'irrational' bigotry (in so far as it does not involve aggressively imposed costs on others) is an almost inescapable aspect in the choices and behaviour of everybody, and that ideological efforts to eradicate it are counterproductive, unnecessary and futile.

Regarding the question of non-bigoted reasons for opposing open (state)borders. Certainly bigotry (often coupled with genuine confusion) is an explanatory motive for many arguments against open borders but I do think that genuine confusion alone can also suffice as explanation. Surely it must be admitted as a logical possiblility no matter how suspicious you (probably rightly) are, but I will cite the case of a former flatmate of mine. He was a young, PC, Australian almost as free from the taint of the usual race and nationality based bigotries as a man can be but he opposed open borders to Australia based on the grounds that it was more or less full and simply couldn't accomodate more people. This error seemed geuinely to be based on ignorance and confusion about economic and geographical matters. I take your point about how excusable ignorance and confusion is but I think it trivialises the point you were trying to make to construe all such confusion as bigotry.

You say the poor need

You say the poor need markets to get rich. How can they get rich when they’re often getting paid less than a dollar on the hour?

I don't know how long it takes to get rich at 75 cents an hour. I just know that it takes less time than to get rich at 50 cents an hour.

Ah, glad you could join us,

Ah, glad you could join us, Rad Geek.

Well, I helped get us into

Well, I helped get us into this mess; let's see how far I can help us get out of it.

By Radgeek's definition, does a greater affinity for family and friends than strangers make one a bigot? --Jonathan Wilde

No, not unless you think that preference for your friends and family over strangers is rationally unjustifiable. I think that's obviously false in the case of friends (part of what 'friends' means is that you prefer them to strangers, or foes), and usually false in the case of family (although someone who's more of a mad dog moral individualist than I am might object).

Of course, someone might go on to try to push the point in favor of overt racism or nationalism on the claim that the racial or ethno-linguistic groups we belong to are like a sort of extended family. (So extended that it extends beyond what normal people use the words "extended family" to mean, i.e. people who have traceable relations to you within some small number of generations.) I think this is sheer mystification, and frankly that it's insulting to the ties of family to try to pass off my relationship to some dumb jerk who happens to come from my hometown or (worse) who just happens to share my native language or dialect or (worse yet) just happened to be born within the same State-drawn lines in the sand as I was, as something of a kind with my relationship to my sister or my parents or my cousins.

On the other hand, it's also worth pointing out that there are some things for which it would be bigoted to prefer your kin, say, over strangers: for example, if you think that you have the right to slay someone at will unless they are your kin, that's a bigoted belief. Specifically it's a rather narrow form of tribalism. It's worth noting that this is relevant to the open borders argument: I happen to agree with Micha about the ethics of "Buy American!" campaigns, but even if you don't think that a boycott of foreign-made goods is rationally indefensible, the issue at hand in immigration policy isn't just a consumer boycott; it's whether or not you should call men with clubs and guns to attack foreigners who try to cross a government-drawn line in the sand without a permission slip. Part of the reason I'm as confident as I am about the claim is that opposition to open borders logically commits you to the claim that foreigners, as foreigners, lack at least some of the individual rights that you are willing to recognize for citizens.

It is not at all clear to me why being bigoted (as defined by Rad Geek) or racist (meaning to discriminate on grounds of race) is immoral, let alone unlibertarian. --Paul Coulam

Whether bigotry is unlibertarian or not depends on what you think "libertarianism" means. It's true that being racist doesn't mean that you therefore endorse violations of the non-aggression principle. (Although most racists actually have, historically, endorsed all kinds of brutal rights violations, it's conceivable that you could have, say, a commitedly non-violent faction of the Klan that seeks to create a white separatist community solely through the exercise of free association and peaceful property rights.) But just because a set of beliefs is logically consistent with the non-aggression principle doesn't mean that it can't be unlibertarian. That follows if you think that the only ethical commitment entailed by libertarianism is a thin commitment to the non-aggression principle. But I think there are good reasons to favor a "thick" version of libertarianism (which requires strict adherence to the non-aggression principle, but which also calls for ethical and political commitments other than just non-aggression). For a start on the argument for that conclusion, see Libertarian Feminism: Can This Marriage Be Saved?.

As for whether bigotry (as I defined it) is immoral or not, well, the definition was framed in such a way that bigotry is a vice term: the intolerance has to be rationally unjustifiable (most people don't consider intolerance towards serial killers a form of bigotry, for example). So in order to qualify as a bigot (as I defined it), you have to at least be indulging in a cognitive vice. I guess whether that means you're also indulging in a moral vice depends on whether or not you think that it can be moral to treat one person worse than another without any rational justification. I don't think it can.

Note that this leaves open the question of whether or not racism (as the term is commonly used) is a form of bigotry: to show that it is, you'd have to show that racial prejudice is rationally unjustifiable. I think most civilized people these days have a pretty good idea of the reasons why that is, but if you want to press the point we can argue about that. (The main thing is to get clear on where the argument actually is.)

Rad Geek says that [everyone who opposes open borders is, therefore, advocating a policy for bigoted reasons.] Apparently because he claims that there are no non-bigoted reasons for opposing open borders. Couldn't someone simply be in error due to confusion? --Paul Coulam

You'd have to explain what sort of confusion you have in mind. Lots of people make errors due to confusion, but sloppy thought isn't necessarily a defense against claims of bigotry (lots of bigots think sloppily; so what?).

In particular, failing to think seriously about a government policy that you endorse means for the victims of that policy isn't an innocent confusion. The fact that people often endorse policies that entail treatment of foreigners that they would never endorse for fellow-citizens or their family is a sign that people often fail to think about things that they should think about. Why do they indulge in these cognitive vices for foreigners and not for fellow-citizens or their family? And why shouldn't we chalk up that cognitive vice as part of a particular (fairly common) form of bigotry?

You might point out that there could be a consistent totalitarian who just thinks that the government has a right to assault anyone that it sees fit. True; but that just means that the person holds to another form of bigotry: bigotry in favor of government officials over their subjects.

If you have some sort of innocent confusion that you think would fit the bill, feel free to specify it, and we can discuss whether that avoids bigotry or not.

I think that everyone who is against open borders is against it for bigoted reasons; that’s because there are no non-bigoted reasons to oppose open borders.

This is nonsense. I'm heavily in favour of open borders, but I recognise there are plenty of non-bigoted reasons to oppose it: national security risk, fear of public services being overwhelmed by an influx of poor people, belief that major cities would be ringed with violent, desperately-poor shanty towns of new immigrants. I reject all these arguments, but there’s nothing bigoted about them. --Wild Pegasus

On the contrary, I think that all of those arguments are transparently bigoted. The notion that you have the right to discard presumption of innocence, due process of law, individual property rights, etc. for some set of people for the sole reason that those people are not (yet) citizens of the state that you live in--worse, in the name of mythical collectivist interests like "national security" and "public services"--are obviously bigoted. They may not be specifically nationalist or racist (some people favor immigration restrictions for reasons of class prejudice, for example, rather than racism or xenophobia), but they are bigoted all the same.

To put it another way, there's nothing in the arguments you give above that essentially has any connection with national borders; you could press every single one of the arguments that you use above as an argument for internal passports, restricting immigration from Kentucky to New York, restricting immigration from rural Illinois to inner-city Chicago, shooting people from inner-city Chicago who try to buy houses in suburban Chicago, etc. The fact that most people--even if they don't very much like the internal migrations that they're experiencing in their communities--would be appalled by ideas like these, but aren't appalled when the argument is used to justify the same summary policies against foreigners, should be a sign that something is rotten here.

(Of course, if they did feel comfortable endorsing these kind of internal immigration policies, they might not be xenophobes but it wouldn't be hard to make the case that they are a particularly appalling sort of classist, racist, or what have you.)

As for the application of the same principles to "Buy American!" campaigns:

1. "Buy American" is not necessarily protectionism. One could advocate free trade and Buy American.

Well, whether it counts as "protectionism" or not depends on whether you think "protectionism" has to entail government policy or not. Whether you call it "protectionism" or not, I think there are some ethical issues in common between government protectionism and voluntary boycotting of foreign goods (even if the boycotters are principled free traders). E.G., both the "Buy American" campaign and the government protectionism usually operate on the premise that you ought to chip in for American companies just because they're American. I think that sort of thing is stupid enough when the pitch is some kind of allegiance to fellow alumni of my University or to people who happened to be in a chapter of the same fraternity as you; it makes it that much worse when it is called for on the basis of the territorial lines drawn in the sand by a continent-spanning government.

2. It's not just "Americans" they expect will be better off. The people who support Buy American believe that their livelihood, and that of their friends and family, depends on people purchasing American-made goods. They might even be right. I don’t see how it's unreasonable or unjustifiable to prefer one’s one livelihood to someone else's, nor why it's unreasonable or unjustifiable to prefer the livelihood of your friends and family to someone from Ghana. -- Wild Pegasus

Then they're being gulled by ridiculous pseudo-economic arguments. This might be a perfectly good reason to (sometimes, at least) buy locally, or to favor your friends and family in your business dealings. But if that's a good argument for buying locally, it's a better argument for my buying goods from Toronto than it is for my buying goods from Los Angeles; and if I lived in Los Angeles it would be a better argument for buying goods from Tijuana than it would be for buying goods from Chicago. Of course, there are some further complications that are caused by existing government violations of laissez-faire principles; but that's increasingly untrue in the age of NAFTA, and in any case it's a good reason to curb the violations, not to join a Know-Nothing boycott.

Of course, there is a further question of why people are gulled by such bad arguments. Part of the reason, I'm sure, is that most people just don't know a lot of economics. But another reason is because people are gulled into thinking that fellow residents of the United States as such have more in common with them than people who live not so many miles away, but happen to be over a border. I think part of the reason that people tend to stop thinking about other people when they hit a national border is that they are buying into statist mystifications; and part of the reason is plain xenophobia. But both reasons are rationally unjustifiable, and both of them constitute a particular form of bigotry.

No, Jonathan, (at least my

No, Jonathan, (at least my understanding does not), because a greater affinity for family and friends is rational and justifiable.

Going back to Landsburg's original article:

Of course we care most about the people closest to us-our families more than our friends and our friends more than our acquaintances. But once you start talking about total strangers, they all ought to be on pretty much the same footing. You could say you care more about white strangers than black strangers because you've got more in common with whites.

So why is it reasonable to care more about our families and friends that total strangers? Well, there are some good self-interested reasons. My family and friends are more likely to help me when I am in need than a perfect stranger. But more importantly, the bulk of our lives - especially the most important parts - is spent with those we know well and with whom we have close and intimate relationships: our friends, co-workers, and family members. We have good reason to be partial to the people we know personally.

Now, perhaps at a certain point, like all normative and descriptive questions, partiality to personal relationships becomes difficult to answer, as Will Wilkinson wrote about in his recent post. But we need not give a complete account of personal relationships in order to distinguish them from our relationships with perfect strangers. As Landburg argues, perfect strangers, whether American or not, all ought to be on pretty much the same footing. Our friends, families, and acquaintances need not be.

For more, see my post from last year on Ethical Egoism and Arbitrariness.

By Radgeek's definition,

By Radgeek's definition, does a greater affinity for family and friends than strangers make one a bigot?

I am going to play the

I am going to play the devil's advocate for a moment. You say the poor need markets to get rich. How can they get rich when they're often getting paid less than a dollar on the hour?

It is not at all clear to me

It is not at all clear to me why being bigoted (as defined by Rad Geek) or racist (meaning to discriminate on grounds of race) is immoral, let alone unlibertarian.

Rad Geek says that: "So

Rad Geek says that:

"So everyone who opposes open borders is, therefore, advocating a policy for bigoted reasons. Now what?"

Apparently because he claims that there are no non-bigoted reasons for opposing open borders. Couldn't someone simply be in error due to confusion?

Evan, To say that

Evan,

To say that anti-liberty and pro-liberty cultures are “equal” in terms of natural human rights is an exercise in moral relativism.

I'm not sure what you mean here. Natural human rights only apply to individuals, not cultures. I can see your point that the U.S. exists to be partial to those who are pro-liberty and intolerant of those who are not, which is not bigotry because it is rational (reasonable, justifiable). But if that is the case, then we should be teaming up with all countries (and individuals) that are pro-liberty, offering them open immigration, military protection, welfare services (starting to see a contradiction?), and everything else we offer our own citizens. Perhaps we are starting to move in this direction by policing the world. Not that that is necessarily a good thing, but I guess it is more consistent in some sense.

I think that everyone who is

I think that everyone who is against open borders is against it for bigoted reasons; that’s because there are no non-bigoted reasons to oppose open borders.

This is nonsense. I'm heavily in favour of open borders, but I recognise there are plenty of non-bigoted reasons to oppose it: national security risk, fear of public services being overwhelmed by an influx of poor people, belief that major cities would be ringed with violent, desperately-poor shanty towns of new immigrants. I reject all these arguments, but there's nothing bigoted about them.

Now, I suppose there may be some people who incorrectly believe in protectionism, not only for the selfish and bigoted reason that protectionism will make Americans better off . . .

Two things:

1. "Buy American" is not necessarily protectionism. One could advocate free trade and Buy American.

2. It's not just "Americans" they expect will be better off. The people who support Buy American believe that their livelihood, and that of their friends and family, depends on people purchasing American-made goods. They might even be right. I don't see how it's unreasonable or unjustifiable to prefer one's one livelihood to someone else's, nor why it's unreasonable or unjustifiable to prefer the livelihood of your friends and family to someone from Ghana.

- Josh

How can they get rich when

How can they get rich when they’re often getting paid less than a dollar on the hour?

That's like asking: "How will we ever get to the store if we only drive five miles/hour?" Any constant movement towards a fixed goal will eventually reach that goal; in this case, the constant movement is an increase in wages. Being paid a dollar an hour may be incredibly low by our standards, but for many it is an improvement from what came before. And many of the countries where people earn significantly more than $1/hour were earning much less than that a few decades ago. So the real question should not be how much people are getting paid, but the rate of growth of productivity, GDP, and wages.

Josh, It’s not just

Josh,

It’s not just “Americans” they expect will be better off. The people who support Buy American believe that their livelihood, and that of their friends and family, depends on people purchasing American-made goods. They might even be right. I don’t see how it’s unreasonable or unjustifiable to prefer one’s one livelihood to someone else’s, nor why it’s unreasonable or unjustifiable to prefer the livelihood of your friends and family to someone from Ghana.

If that is the case, then shouldn't their campaign slogan be "Buy from my friends and family," or "Buy from my neighborhood," rather than buy from all Americans, most of whom are just as much strangers as people living in Ghana?

Micha, That's not exactly

Micha,

That's not exactly true. Americans from any two given geographical locations are, 99% of the time, going to have more in common than with someone from Ghana. There *is* a shared American culture (though not a comprehensive or all-encompassing one) that is not shared with Ghanese. So it is not out of the ordinary or of reason that Americans would prefer, for cultural reasons if none else, that their fellow-folk do better than someone else, all other things being equal and its a zero-sum situation.

Of course, trade is positive sum, and American culture is such that it is both modular & adaptationist; American mass culture & the institutions of that culture give a 'lingua franca' in which to have an increasingly global dialog. Its the liberal project via commerce.

With trade, you get fellow-feeling. Its the cutting off of trade that at least makes possible fragmentation into ever more particular (and somewhat hostile) bits.

Micha, I’m not sure what

Micha,

I’m not sure what you mean here. Natural human rights only apply to individuals, not cultures.

What I mean, is, there are certain cultures whose societal structures more readily lend themselves to being natural-rights-adherent. Yes, natural rights apply to individuals, but certainly, specific cultures are more likely than others to create governmental structures which go against natural rights, or wholeheartedly oppose them. Such as this is, it is justifiable to create a particular refuge (being governmental in nature) to counteract these aggressions.

"I can see your point that the U.S. exists to be partial to those who are pro-liberty and intolerant of those who are not, which is not bigotry because it is rational (reasonable, justifiable). But if that is the case, then we should be teaming up with all countries (and individuals) that are pro-liberty, offering them open immigration, military protection, welfare services (starting to see a contradiction?), and everything else we offer our own citizens."

No, you are going off-track here. The ideal "liberty-protectionist" governmental structure is not partial to the special interests and preferences of those individuals who are pro-liberty. It does not offer welfare support and subsidized housing and interest-free loans to those individuals who pledge to be "pro-liberty". It simply exists to shore up and protect the natural rights of its citizens against those individuals and/or governmental structures which would seek to violate them. This does not mean that we should go around the globe in search of liberty-minded people and attempt to help them. As I said, the ideal of the Constitutional Republic of the United States of America was to be an outpost, an oasis for those who support natural rights (and, of course, some other "rights" that the founders thought necessary to slip in there). An oasis, in other words, that necessitates political boundaries to differentiate itself from the rest of the globe. An oasis, not a worldwide-liberty-police. There is a difference. And, again, it is not bigoted to draw a line between the oasis and the rest of the world. One must realize his limits.

Perhaps we are starting to move in this direction by policing the world. Not that that is necessarily a good thing, but I guess it is more consistent in some sense.

Our policing the world has little to do with liberty and natural rights, and much to do with western cultural "values". This is not consistent, by any stretch, and it is definitely not a good thing.

It simply exists to shore up

It simply exists to shore up and protect the natural rights of its citizens against those individuals and/or governmental structures which would seek to violate them.

But why should we be partial to pro-liberty individuals born in the geographical area that is the U.S. as opposed to being partial to pro-liberty individuals born anywhere else in the world?

An oasis, in other words, that necessitates political boundaries to differentiate itself from the rest of the globe. An oasis, not a worldwide-liberty-police. There is a difference. And, again, it is not bigoted to draw a line between the oasis and the rest of the world. One must realize his limits.

I'm not so sure of this. Why must we realize these limits? For pragmatic reasons? Even if these limits are pragmatically necessary, that doesn't answer the moral question of whether they are fair.

Another problem with the

Another problem with the "partial to people who share a pro-liberty culture, which can roughly be estimated as Americans and Europeans." This seems dangerously close to explanations given by racial or religious bigots who feel that "white culture" is more virtuous than "black culture," or that the category "white" is a rough estimate of those who share similar values to oneself. The same is true with those who are partial to other Christians, other Jews, or other Muslims.

Further, if we truly care about all humans, we should want to influence and persuade those who don't currently see the benefit of liberty and get them to change their minds. The best way to do that is to offer them the same benefits we offer ourselves: military protection against threats, or whatever other government services you think are legitimate. By denying them the same thing we give ourselves, we further distance them from ever wanting to share our values. (i.e. What's so great about American culture if it excludes people like me and my family?)

I don't see how any of these explanations get us out of the bigotry problem.

(I'm not sure how RadGeek would respond to the claim that one need not be a bigot, but merely uninformed and mistaken, to hold nationalistic views. In either case, I think RadGeek has an interesting claim and I would like to hear his response. Maybe I will email him when I get a chance, if he doesn't read this thread first.)

If that is the case, then

If that is the case, then shouldn’t their campaign slogan be “Buy from my friends and family,” or “Buy from my neighborhood,” rather than buy from all Americans, most of whom are just as much strangers as people living in Ghana?

Because a bunch of similar people in similar situations came together to support the same notion. "Buy [list of companies those people and their friends work for]" doesn't have rhetorical punch.

- Josh

Paul, I take your point, and

Paul,

I take your point, and it is a good one, but I think both Long and Hoppe can fight a two-pronged war. Both are fighting on the same side of the purely political (anti-state) war, where violence should only be used to counter violence. But both are fighting on opposite sides of the culture war, where violence should not be used, but one should focus only on persuasion and rational argument. I think its important to have libertarians from both the right and the left to attract their statist counterparts over from the dark side, despite the fact that I hope the left eventually wins the culture war.

He was a young, PC, Australian almost as free from the taint of the usual race and nationality based bigotries as a man can be but he opposed open borders to Australia based on the grounds that it was more or less full and simply couldn’t accomodate more people

I can hardly think of any place in the world less full than Australia. :dizzy:

Paul: I do think that

Paul:

I do think that genuine confusion alone can also suffice as explanation. Surely it must be admitted as a logical possiblility no matter how suspicious you (probably rightly) are, but I will cite the case of a former flatmate of mine. He was a young, PC, Australian almost as free from the taint of the usual race and nationality based bigotries as a man can be but he opposed open borders to Australia based on the grounds that it was more or less full and simply couldn’t accomodate more people. This error seemed geuinely to be based on ignorance and confusion about economic and geographical matters. I take your point about how excusable ignorance and confusion is but I think it trivialises the point you were trying to make to construe all such confusion as bigotry.

Well, there are two different claims that need to be distinguished here. I'm making both, but you're probably right to point out that they're not sufficiently distinguished:

1. The empirical claim: as a matter of fact, most people's confusions about immigration policy have at least some roots in cognitive vices that are connected with paradigm cases of bigotry (e.g. racism, xenophobia)

2. The conceptual claim: as a matter of conceptual analysis, anything that someone could hold as a reason for government immigration restrictions qualifies as a form of bigotry.

Part of the reason I may have run these two claims together above is that part of what's involved in making (2) plausible is trying to show how some common, allegedly innocent reasons for favoring immigration restrictions are in fact connected with recognizable forms of bigotry. But of course you're right that you can grant (1) but not (2).

On the other hand, I think that (2) is true. The reason why, roughly, is that calling for government immigration restrictions as such (provided that the excluded class isn't defined by any manifest criminal behavior) requires calling for the application of force to stop the peaceful movements of people because of their group-membership (if nothing else, their status as foreigners) without regard to their individual conduct. As such it requires coercion on collectivist premises (even if the alleged goal is something like "national security" that involves discarding all kinds of basic procedural rights commonly granted to citizens in favor of what is in effect a collectivist state of war). And I think that any reason that could be given for attacking peaceful individual people based solely on collectivist group status is as such a bigoted reason. (You might say the bigotry is imputed backwards here; the reasons for the position have to include at least one bigoted reason, or else the argument won't go through). I grant that this commits me to saying that some things are forms of bigotry which might not be considered paradigm cases (e.g. statist presumptions about what government officials can rightly do to citizens), but I think that the simple definition of "bigot" is a pretty sound one, and if it leads to that conclusion I'm pretty willing to sign on to it.

(As for the case of your friend, and other related "overpopulation" arguments: I think that these are in fact connected with a pretty humdrum form of bigotry, i.e. xenophobia. The "-phobia" might be misleading, since it suggests some form of active fear or hostility, but I think it's appropriate enough in analogical use. The important thing to note is that there are any number of ways to deal with a over-large population. For example, you could shoot people on the street, or you could burn down their houses and put them on ships to New Zealand. Of course I imagine your friend would find these solutions horrifying; as well he should. But signing on for a policy that has effects not much better for desparate refugees--interdiction at sea, incarceration in squalid refugee camps, etc., in the case of Australia--means that you're willing to do something to foreigners that you wouldn't be willing to do to your fellow citizens. Of course you might say that he [confusedly] wasn't really thinking about what the policy meant for it's victims. I don't doubt that's true, but the question is: why wasn't he thinking about that?)

On thick and thin:

Time for questions and discussion was, as ever, too short but I did get in the point that these 'thick' versions of libertarianism lead into error. Hoppe, as you correctly identified, errs in spreading the bread of libertarianism with a thick layer of 'conservative' jam but it seems to me that you and Roderick are making an equivalent error when you stir in a cornflour of egalitarianism to thicken the thin gruel of libertarianism. My point is that these adulterations of libertarianism spoil [its] natural bland flavour, the great virtue of which is that it leaves others to freely choose to add their own (non-agressive) cultural/ideological ingredients.

Well, one question here is how far one can conceivably talk about libertarian virtues in isolation from the other virtues at all; I'm not sure that you can. (I'd suggest here the usual Socratic reasons for thinking that character traits are individuated as virtues or vices not just by their effects or their intrinsic qualities, but also by their relationships to the other virtues and vices.) My suspicion is that if you try to give any kind of genuinely ethical content to the virtue of libertarian justice without connecting it with other virtues and vices (such as broad notions of fairness, kindness, dignity, etc.), you won't even get thin gruel; you'll get something so thin that it ends up (to further abuse the metaphors) dissolving so thoroughly that it slips out of your spoon and leaves nothing of substance at all. (To come around more directly to the point, I think that the "libertarianism" of a Hoppe, for example, veers between a confused reach toward the good and something else that has nothing in particular to do with libertarian justice except a mostly shared set of policy conclusions, depending on which parts of his position are in the ascendency at any given point. Of course the fact that someone does happen to agree with most of your policy conclusions can be politically very important, even if their reasons for it are hostile to your own. But that's a separate issue of strategy.)

Even supposing that you can separate out some common element, though, between Hoppean libertarianism (in his worse moments) and, say, the sort of libertarianism that Roderick and I are trying to foster, it's still important to note that there are at least three levels of criticism that you might want to separate out that "thick" libertarians might engage in:

1. Non-libertarian concerns: there are cases in which the full bundle of ethical commitments that a person has is such that her "thick" commitments aren't in logical contradiction with her commitment to "thin" libertarianism, but are objectionable in their own right

2. Indirect libertarian concerns: there might be cases in which the full bundle of ethical commitments that a person has is such that some "thick" commitment, even though it's not in direct logical contradiction with her commitment to "thin" libertarianism, does end up partaking in confusions that have something in common with, and conducive toward, violations of "thin" libertarianism (e.g. various forms of collectivism, moral skepticism, an affection for macho patriarchy, etc.)

3. Direct libertarian concerns: there might be cases in which the full bundle of ethical commitments that a person has is such that some "thick" commitment ends up directly compromising her commitment to "thin" libertarianism (e.g. by turning a blind eye towards pervasive individual rights violations such as race slavery, coercive immigration restrictions, battery and sexual violence against women, beating of children, etc.)

It's clear enough, I guess, that (1) only relates to the question of whether a position is "libertarian" or not insofar as you are willing to push the sort of foggy worries about the unity of virtue that I push above. Of course, there may be good reasons to direct criticism towards something independent of its relationship to libertarian justice principles, but it only has bearing on libertarianism insofar as you might need to show how the direction of criticism is compatible with libertarian justice principles (which was, after all, one of the purposes behind Roderick's and my essay).

But that also leaves (2) and (3) to consider. Even the thinnest form of libertarianism has to concern itself with (3), for obvious reasons, since (3) directly touches on whether a particular libertarian's full stock of beliefs ultimately prevents them from staying true to the non-aggression axiom. As it happens I think that (3) is actually far, far more important than many people in the libertarian movement often seem to realize (not just because Hoppe's stance on immigration is a case in point--although it is--but also because of, say, the fact that men like Jefferson and Calhoun are frequently cited as libertarian forebearers even though they personally held other human beings in chattel bondage.)

But it's also important to note that there may also be good reasons for libertarians, as libertarians, to concern themselves with (2). Partly for strategic reasons: you might think that people who don't fall into the failings of type (2) are more reliable allies. But partly also because if those confusions really are analogous or identical, in some important respect, to the vices or confusions that lead to hypocritical compromises of the non-aggression principle (as in (3)) or outright abandonment of it (as in various forms of statism), then directing critical scrutiny to the kinds of failings that put people into category (2) or into category (3) can help us get correct error (a valuable aim in its own right) and also articulate more clearly what libertarianism really is and what the grounds for it are.

Of course, if one ends up defending a pretty thin account of moral commitments as such outside of non-aggression, as you do above, then that undercuts a lot of the possible ground from which you might launch into criticisms of types (1)-(3) in the first place. But that's really a separate topic entirely, so I'm going to beg off of that for the moment and post it in a separate reply.

Fully addressing the

Fully addressing the question of thick and thin morality would take a lot more space and time than I've got at the moment, of course, so instead I'll focus on one specific issue and beg off the rest until later: the question of "rationally defensible" and "rationally indefensible" lifestyles:

It is asking far too much of people to demand that their preferences must be 'rationally justifiable' in order to count as moral, indeed I don’t think that such a standard can even be coherent. We accept readily enough that when choosing sleeping partners we can be as 'irrational' or as 'bigoted' as we like in choosing whom to let enter our bodies or whose bodies we choose to enter. By extention I think the same applies to our non-corporeal property. So if someone wishes to open a nightclub for gay men only or a country club for WASP's only or establish a town only for Welsh speaking Hindus nothing unlibertarian nor, I contend, even immoral is committed thereby.

Well, but there are a lot of things that need to be unpacked here.

Firstly, are we asking whether you're morally obligated to have a rational justification for forming friendships (or sexual liasons, or ...), or whether you're morally obligated to have a rational justification for treating Smith and Jones differently with respect to X given that Smith is your friend (or lover, or...) and Jones is not? I think the second question is actually the only one I broached, not the first; but I think most of the suspicion towards the notion of "rational justification" in these spheres gets whatever plausibility it has from the first. All I urged above is that "Smith is my friend and Jones isn't" is a rational justification for treating Smith better than you treat Jones with regard to some things (although not, importantly, with regard to coercive violence), but that "Smith happens to have been born in the same country as I was but Jones wasn't" is not, and that it's wrong to treat Jones worse than you treat Smith without any good reason to do so. That leaves open the question of what to say about the grounds you might or might not have for having become Jones's friend but not Smith's in the first place. You might say, "look, you said that treating Jones worse than Smith without a rational justification is immoral, so doesn't that mean you also need to come up with some rational justification for becoming Smith's friend rather than Jones's if you want to maintain your position?" Well, only if becoming Smith's friend but not becoming Jones's is treating Jones worse than you treat Smith. I don't think it is, unless you can articulate some way in which becoming Smith's friend but not Jones's is in some way (e.g.) unfair to Smith. (Which it might be--if, for example I become Smith's friend because he flatters me but despise Jones because he honestly criticizes me. But I think that forming friendships like that is pretty clearly ethically objectionable.) The fact that there's a certain amount of arbitrariness involved in the formation of many of our ties doesn't entail that by forming those ties we are treating anyone any better or worse than anyone else.

Secondly, what do the notions of "rational justification" and "rationally indefensible" come out to? To be sure, I left that open in giving my own definition--which makes for a pretty thin definition of bigotry, I guess! But it's important to note that when I described bigotry as "rationally unjustifiable" group-preferences, I was using the terms in such a way as to qualify bigotry as a vice term. (I think it's part and parcel of how we use the word "bigot" that bigotry is eo ipso a bad thing to practice.) If that's how it's being used, then it's important that you can draw a distinction between conduct that's merely arbitrary and conduct that's irrational. Doing A instead of B even though you haven't got any reason to pick A over B isn't the same as doing A instead of B when you've got a reason not to pick A over B. Merely arbitrary decisions can often be perfectly ethical--it may be that the choice is just not one in which ethics makes a ruling. But actively irrational decisions can't be; as such they entail overruling ethical constraints. My claim is that bigotry (by definition) involves group preferences that are actively irrational, not just arbitrary. Someone's merely arbitrary group-preferences may be signs of partisanship, or boosterism; they may even (in some cases) be signs of a silly disposition. But they're not of themselves signs of bigotry. Bigotry as I defined the term is bad not because it's arbitrary, but because it hurts people; not because it's independent of reason but because it's contrary to it. (This attaches to the question about forming, say, Welsh/Hindu-only towns. The question is, first, whether that exclusiveness is reasoned or arbitrary; and then, second, if it's arbitrary, whether it's merely arbitrary, or whether it exists in a social context where it's actively harmful. In this respect there's a pretty distinct moral difference between, say, Welsh/Hindu-only towns, on the one hand, and white seperatist institutions on the other: there may be reasons to think that a Welsh/Hindu-only town is silly, but there are also good reasons to think that it's harmless to non-Welsh/Hindus. But that's not at all clearly the case with whites-only towns (or, say, whites-only boycott campaigns) in a society with a history of violent, pervasive, and intensely damaging white supremacism.

This is also connected to the question of forming friendships and sexual liasons, incidentally: part of the issue here is the need to distinguish whether "Your decision to X is/is not rationally justifiable" means "Your decision to X has/has not got an articulate rational justification," or "Your decision to X is rationally corrigible but is/is not undefeated by any other considerations." Note that I left this entirely open in the definition; the only proviso is that a decision that flunks at least the second test (i.e., a decision that's rationally corrigible and in fact should be constrained for other reasons) is immoral. Whether the stronger claim that a decision on this or that particular topic that flunks the first test is also therefore vicious.

(You might ask: "Well, what about decisions that the first test flunks, and that the second test can't be applied to, because they aren't made on rationally corrigible grounds?" The answer is that nothing that could qualify as a decision is rationally incorrigible. Those would not be decisions at all, but tics or fits.)