An exchange on immigration.

Here is an exchange I had the other day with the blogger JayMan. The post I was responding to was a discussion of how there were some people who call themselves Progressive but were also against unrestricted immigration.

Polymath / Apr 27 2013 5:16 PM

I take issue with the concept of “justice for all involved” here. Lawmakers deciding upon an immigration policy, AS LAWMAKERS, for the USA have an obligation to Americans who elected them, and not to the citizens of any other country. A policy that is better for the current citizenry is to be preferred to a policy that, while worse for the people whose current citizenship is American, is better for the larger group of people consisting of the union of the set of current Americans and the set of people who are currently citizens of other countries but would under the given policy become Americans instead.

This is an extremely fundamental point, the obscuring of which is the major act of intellectual dishonesty perpetrated by the supporters of immigration. They are TRADING ON the confusion between the universalist MORAL instincts that most people in the USA have, and the nationalist POLITICAL instincts that they have. It may be, in some abstract utilitarian sense, better for the world as a whole if more people got to come here, but the current Americans are not required to be the ones getting the short end of the stick by any conceivable set of goals for AMERICAN POLITICIANS.

To argue otherwise is to say that politicians have no specific duty to the people they govern, but only to humanity as a whole. If the CEO of a company decided to pay dividends not to the shareholders, but to the shareholders of his competitors as well, just because it would be “fairer”, he would not only be fired but prosecuted for a breach of fiduciary duty; he is free to give his personal bonus away to whomever he wants, but he was hired BY the owners of the company to manage the assets of the company FOR the owners of the company.

It should be obvious that politicians are in a similar situation; actually they are even more at fault, because a more correct analogy is to a CEO who not only pays cash dividends to non-shareholders, but issues stock to them too so they can vote for a board of directors that will keep him in his job.

JayMan / Apr 27 2013 5:24 PM

Indeed. Duty to one’s country’s citizens should always come first for a politician, and then one can consider the good of the rest of humanity. There are more complexities, such as not furthering the good of your citizens if it comes at the expense of others’ (hence why not invade other countries and take their resources at will?), and generality not being blithe about the welfare of non-citizens, but yes, you get to the basic point.

Polymath / Apr 27 2013 5:55 PM

Your point about invading other countries is technically right, but even there, democratically accountable politicians don’t invade when they could get away with it militarily because of international law and treaties and so on which their own people desire them to adhere to. Usually it’s non-accountable political leaders who commit aggression against other countries.

Although it does happen occasionally that aggression you and I would consider morally objectionable is desired by the people, in that case the politician has a conflict between his moral duty (as seen by you and me) and his political duty, and he should either resign or publicly declare that what the people want is immoral. Our politicians instead lie and obfuscate.

(For this reason, I actually give kudos to politicians who defend immigration on the grounds that denying foreigners the right to come here is “racist” and hence immoral, they are at least honest, although confused and wrong; of course if they refuse to allow discussion of why it is “racist” and wrong, as they usually do, they are still dishonest but in a different way.)

A final point of clarification: one may argue that the USA’s propensity to attack other countries refutes my line of argument, because our leaders are supposedly accountable; but I do not view that as a case of immorally putting one’s own people’s interests ahead of those of foreigners; the aggressions aren’t actually in the interests of Americans but rather in the interests of a political class that is, unfortunately, much less accountable than it ought to be. That’s the explanation for the lying on immigration too.

JayMan / Apr 27 2013 5:56 PM

Yup. Good comment.


About Polymath

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