Sunday, November 11, 2012

Conservatives and immigration: a glimmer of hope?

Since Obama won the recent presidential election, much of the commentary has been on how much the outcome was influenced by changes in demographics. Such is the opinion, for example, of Jose Antonio Vargas, the one-man crusade for immigration reform in America. For example, there's this from his facebook page:
According to exit polls, and the role of the Latino vote (and other immigrant groups and our allies), it looks like Mitt Romney may be 'self-deporting" himself from this presidential election. 

What will the GOP do?
Apparently there is an answer to this question already in the works:
Two prominent conservatives -- radio host Sean Hannity and columnist Charles Krauthammer -- advocate an immigration bill that would include both tighter border security and a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants who are already here -- i.e., something close to Obama's position.
Note that ths consitutes a genuine change of thought on the conservative side. As a libertarian, I would say this solution is not enough--open the borders, I say!--but it represents one way in which democracy can force change among politicians. It's a good thing that Americans may after all become more liberal on this issue.

Conservative opposition to freer immigration laws frustrates me on multiple levels. First, there's the economic argument. The myth that illegal immigrants are a net drain on our entitlement system is far too often perpetuated on the right. In reality, many illegal immigrants actually pay taxes each year. The economic reality of immigration is that it happens precisely for the reasons economists expect--people are guided by market forces to seek opportunities where they can find them. Thus when there are jobs that need to be filled, people come to fill them. Limits on immigration are, economically speaking, one of the worst anti-free market measures we can take.

Second, there's the national sovereignty argument. This is very old and perhaps very natural. For some reason we humans like to claim land for ourselves, even when we just arrived on said land quite recently. Such is the history of America. It's worth reminding ourselves that--yes, here it comes, prepare yourself for eyes rolling--we are nation of immigrants. It should be well embedded in our culture by now that new-comers are normal, that being American does not mean looking or thinking or acting a particular way. All we ought to ask is that people be peaceful. The fear that our "culture" will be fundamentally changed is shown to be quite silly when one remembers how easy it is to share the spirit of basic human decency: "don't harm me and I won't harm you." This is a libertarian ideal, yes, but it also happens to conform with the distinctly American traditions of liberty, a pioneering spirit, and the idea that ours is a land of opportunity. I have trouble understanding why more conservatives don't go for this.

Most of all, however, I simply cannot understand why so many conservatives are able to argue passionately against abortion as a violation of basic human rights, all the while using essentially "pro-choice" arguments (applied to a different political entity, of course) against immigration. What are the arguments in favor of tolerating abortion? Well, the fetus is not like other human beings: she doesn't look like us, she doesn't have the same attachments to our world of culture and language, and she is in many cases not wanted. Keeping her alive could cost enormous amounts of resources, not to mention the many other emotional and social reasons why her existence could be a terrible burden. Thus, abortion is sometimes the only logical option.

Now substitute "fetus" with "immigrant" and "abortion" with "deportation" and see what happens. It's pretty amazing, isn't it? I am not impressed by the objection that abortion is killing while deporation is not. Deportation, though it is not the worst form of violence possible, is still violence (except in Mitt Romney's imaginary world in which immigrants will happily pick up and leave because we ask). It can be extremely damaging to families, particularly to children who grow up knowing nothing but this country and then are asked to leave. If you think that is consistent with freedom, I beg you to think it over again.

So, particularly if the Republicans are going to keep the pro-life position on abortion as part of their platform (and yes, I am one of those who think they should), I submit they should also adopt a more liberal immigration policy. This does not mean we stop caring about who crosses our borders. On the contrary, it means we can improve our border security by focusing on the people who are actually criminals, such as those people who, you know, kill people.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A happy libertarian meditation on elections

So America has just re-elected President Obama. Congratulations to him, and to all who supported him. For many Republicans, I'm sure this is a bitter pill to swallow, since they were so convinced the whole time that Obama is one of the main reasons for everything that is wrong with America right now. For us libertarians, it's not really that big a deal: we knew all along we probably weren't going to get a candidate we liked!

However, it's not all bleak. A lot of people today are very happy, because they view Obama as a very good man and an inspiration for the future. And I think they are right: Obama is a good man. So is Romney, for that matter. I think it's overly cynical to view all politicians as bad people. I'm guessing that both candidates for president really want to serve their country well, that they're both good to their families, and that they both can be nice people to be around if you get to know them.

It isn't because I think all politicians are bad people that I am against big government. It's because I think that big government has a way of causing good people to do bad things. Many people seem to have trouble accepting that evil can result from intellectual mistakes and/or systemic problems, but it can. I do not think that it was out of hatred for truth or justice that George W. Bush dragged us into two never-ending wars, or that Barack Obama started a secret "kill list" outside the bounds of the rule of law. On the contrary, these men believe in their country, and they will do "everything it takes" to defend it.

That "everything it takes" part can be really scary. Even, and perhaps especially, in the hands of good people.

Indeed, sometimes libertarianism comes across as a political philosophy which celebrates poor traits in humanity, such as greed and selfishness. On the contrary, I don't celebrate these things at all; I just don't have the same irrational fear of them that others do. In fact our great mistake as a society is to celebrate our own optimism and idealism.

Why fear greed and selfishness? They will forever be unpopular. On the other hand, idealistic politicians with a heart of gold and a vision for the country--they really frighten me. Why? Because people actually put their hopes in them!

A common objection I hear is that libertarians are as utopian as socialists. Socialists believe that we should try to organize society in such a way that all of her efforts are directed toward the common good by means of a democratic state. Clearly utopian--no state worked or ever will work like that. On the other hand, the libertarian view of the state is that it ought simply to enforce the basic rules of justice, not play favorites, and not intervene in the lives of citizens when no injustice has been committed. And that, unfortunately, has never happened either!

But the two kinds of utopianism are not equivalent in spirit. While socialism rests on a belief in a kind of society that has never existed, libertarianism merely rests on the hope for a government that has, unfortunately, never existed. Indeed, all libertarianism demands is that government help, rather than hinder, those natural forces which in fact make society work. Its demands may be too much for any real government, but they are not too much for society. What actually makes society work is not the politicians we elect, but the fact that each of us as individuals respect the life and property of other individuals.

It is an absurd mischaracterization of libertarianism to say that libertarians are against working together for the common good. Au contraire ! The amazing thing about this global civilization we live in is that we already do work together for the common good, whether we appreciate that fact or not. The system of global capitalism that is in place is mostly not our doing. It is rather the unforeseen result of billions of decisions along history's long and complicated path.

And I think that civilization is remarkably resilient. I am hardly a fan of the belief that progress is inevitable. What feels like progress often isn't, and often the path that actually leads to progress is not ideal. But freedom is ultimately difficult to destroy. It arises from the moral traditions we have inherited, and whether we realize it or not we will mostly continue to persist on those traditions: respect for human life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Democracy often blinds us to these simple truths. We place our hopes in the amazing gift of being able to choose our government--and it is an amazing gift--while forgetting that government does not make us free or prosperous. And you know what, that's okay. You may have voted for all the wrong reasons, but the free world will not collapse because of it.

So I remain content, not because I think government as it exists is acceptable or that I think everything is just going to be alright without any effort on anyone's part. Rather, I remain content because I know that no political election, no matter the outcome, can ever take away from humanity that which it really needs to fight for justice, truth, and peace.

Things could get bleak in the short run. I don't know. I fear the results of Obama's executive power grab, and now that he has a second term it could get worse. I fear what the Republicans will do, given that they may be even more angry after this election than before. Yes, there are lots of worries.

But in the long run, freedom is not really in the hands of these elites, elected or not. And that is why I remain a happy libertarian...

...who will cheerfully continue to blast America's current political policies, mostly because it's just so darn fun!

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Why I think Obama and Romney are essentially the same

There are many reasons why libertarians disapprove equally of Romney and Obama. One could note policies on the war on terror, drone strikes, the NDAA and related national security policies, Guantanamo Bay, etc. Or one could even point to the fundamental similarities in their economic philosophy, which always requires the government to "steer the ship," and which always focuses on the middle class in an obvious attempt to strike a populist chord with America's voting population.

But I wanted to provide a very pithy evaluation of these two candidates, in anticipation of the upcoming Election Day in the US, in order to explain why a Romney presidency will most likely have a very similar effect on American society as an Obama presidency.

Both candidates share this fundamental trait on common: they really want to be good politicians. Each promises to bring but one ingredient to the White House: competence. This "competence" is expressed in all sorts of ways: the ability to run a business, pass laws, or finally "put aside politics" and do "what's best for the country." This latter phrase is never actually explained: it is a way of merely summarizing current prejudices among political elites, whose position in society renders them incapable of philosophical self-criticism.

This desire to appear above all competent to "run the country" is, sadly, a manifestation of how most Americans view politics. Modern people seem to view the government, not as a source of justice, but rather as a source of progress. Thus elections have become about which candidate has the best "vision" for the country, rather than about which candidate would be most true to the principles of our Constitution. We want our president to not simply govern, but rather "run the country."

I am hardly optimistic about the potential results of this trend.