Libertarian Realist vs. Bryan Caplan. Part II

Brief comments:

It is not obvious to me what Libertarians should think on this matter since Libertarianism represents a very broad network of political philosophies centered around the nebulous ideas of “freedom” and “liberty”, a broad network in which there is much disagreement as to which “freedoms” and “liberties” are good (e.g., Propertarianists versus Libertarian socialists on private property). When trying to “think like a libertarian”, I always encounter innumerable issues for which there are no obvious “Libertarian” answers e.g., Libertarianism on selling oneself into slavery. Before discussing libertarianism one has to take a stance on more central issues, such as ownership, the right to possess — issues which relate to very basic conceptions of justices e.g., justice as iiius suum cuique tribuere. I have no idea what either Libertarian Realist’s or Bryan Caplan’s positions are concerning the nature of justice, so it is difficult for me to well evaluate their positions.

As for myself, I tend to agree with the basic understanding of Justice as giving one what is one’s own. This reduces the question of Justice to that of: What is one’s own? Many, these days, are fond of the liberal socialist philosopher John Rawls’ answer that one’s own is what a rationally self interested person would want it to be, were they blind to their prior situation i.e., one’s own is an equal share of the pie. Worse, they are fond of his argument — when it was nothing more than a not too clever rhetorical sleight of hand. Such is what others think. Generally, as to my own answer to this question I tend to say something like: outcomes consistent with the rules of the game that tend to be accepted and played by. The result is a theory of Justice — of due — which is compatible with inequity and which recognizes that ethical rules are negotiable and, in instances, not consented to. What rules should be accepted? There are none; there are only the rules that get accepted; and different groups at different times will accept different rules. And some individuals will not accept those generally accepted. There is then a sense in which Justice in this sense is unjust. There will always be instances of individuals who do not accept the rules of the game in their society. They are the deviants, the mad — who were perhaps born to the wrong time, to the wrong place. Because of this, in some ways, this theory of justice is unsatisfying. But not acknowledging that Justice is not free of injustice, that it is not more than a social arrangement that might be disagreed with, seems even less so — to me.

Now, one commonly accepted rule in our game is that we grant property ownership (i.e., people can own things not just e.g., an equal portion of the stuff which exists); granting this grants the possibility — and in our world inevitability of — inequality of property. So, for example, Bryan Caplan can own three cars and Libertarian Realist and I can own, jointly, zero. This point about property has bearing on the issue. To quote from the exchange:

Caplan: If you’re a libertarian, where does this “jurisdictions” stuff come from? I’d think that the purpose of a libertarian government would be to respect *people’s* freedom. And even if you think freedom in a jurisdiction is a priority, that hardly means it’s an absolute priority. In the worst case scenario, full Haitian immigration make Americans mildly less free. In the status quo, American immigration restrictions make Haitians vastly less free….What you call “catastrophe” is, by world and historic standards, a paradise. Would saving Detroit have justified depriving blacks of the freedom to live and work where they like – and whites the right to trade with them? No.

Libertarian Realist: You are helping to accelerate the demographic demise of libertarianism by supporting a globalist egalitarian immigration policy based on altruism. You’ve admitted that you’re willing to see negative consequences for freedom here due to Haitians…would have been willing to prevent Detroit from deporting violent populations in order to save itself from ruin…all for the sake of what you call freedom to migrate.

Of course, all property rights restrict people’s movements. What you’re demanding is a positive right to transcend property boundaries, which is alien to libertarian conceptions of rights. It’s no more restrictive of my freedom if the Singaporean government denies me entry into the country than if an owner of some private island denies me entry into his island. I have no positive right to move anywhere I want to in the world. If the whole country of Singapore was a privately owned community and it announced that it was no longer taking in new residents, would the rest of the world suddenly become less free?

Libertarian Realist is clearly a Propertarian — individuals and groups — e.g., corporations and cooperatives — can own property; owership, naturally, restricts the freedom of non-owners; dissolving property rights to increase freedoms — e..g, so that Libertarian Realist and I can use Caplan’s extra cars — is anti-Propertarian. Libertarian Realist then argues that, collectively, nationals own nations — which seems consistent with common understanding i.e., we talk of “invading their country”, “taking their land”. What Caplan is is not clear. I would guess that he is not anti-Propertarian, per se. But that he thinks that there is something different about collective owership in regards to nations versus corporations. Or that he feels that the magnitude of the inequality between nations is so pressing of a problem as to negates native property rights. If the latter, we can only wonder what his position would be were national differences equalized. In this regard, one thinks of John Rawls’ famous disinterest in “the right to migrant”:

There are numerous causes of immigration. I mention several and suggest that they would disappear in the Society of liberal and decent Peoples. One is the persecution of religious and ethnic minorities, the denial of their human rights. Another is political oppression… Often people are simply fleeing from starvation… Yet famines are often themselves in large part caused by political failures and the absence of decent government. The last cause I mention is population pressure in the home territory, and among its complex of causes is the inequality and subjection of women. Once that inequality and subjection are overcome, and women are granted equal political participation with men and assured education, these problems can be resolved… The problem of immigration is not, then, simply left aside, but is eliminated as a serious problem in a realistic utopia. The Law of Peoples.

Were nations to be equalized in terms of institutions and outcomes, would advocates of “the right to migrant” still consider it to be a pressing issue? Specifically, would Caplan? I have no idea.

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