Relaxing to think on a Sunday afternoon.
Reason TV sat down with Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett to talk about his new book "Our Republican Constitution" and a number of other issues.
Relaxing to think on a Sunday afternoon.
Reason TV sat down with Georgetown Law's Randy Barnett to talk about his new book "Our Republican Constitution" and a number of other issues.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 04/10/2016 at 09:06 AM in American Culture, Barack Obama, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Current Affairs, Film, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Liberty Laid Bare, Media/Media Bias, Presidency, U.S., Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, State/Nebraska Politics, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | |
Matthew Parris tells the story about devouring the book that made him become a Tory at the age of ten.
Older readers may remember this series. Younger readers should know that Pookie was a small winged rabbit with blue trousers, rescued in distress by a loving, poor but honest girl called Belinda, who lived alone in the wood, made Pookie a padded bed in a sort of shoebox, and helped him grow wings. The pair became the greatest friends.
One late autumn day, Winter — drawn as a scary giant with icicle fingers — arrives. There’s a great storm. Trees blow down. Burrows flood. All the animals in the wood (Pookie’s friends) are devastated; homes destroyed, food stores ruined, wings and paws wounded. Pookie and Belinda take in the casualties, warm them by the fire and feed and tend to them. But Pookie (with whom I identified) strides out into the storm in a rage and, shaking his little paw at Winter, tells him to stop being so cruel, go back to the North Pole and never return.
And to Pookie’s shock, Winter withdraws. Pookie is briefly feted. Autumn is followed by spring. Then all nature is thrown into confusion. Flowers have no time to prepare to flower again; dead leaves and branches have not been cleared, nor animals refreshed by hibernation. Now all the woodland folk protest, and Pookie becomes a figure of hate.
So, in the biggest adventure of his life, Pookie flies all the way to the North Pole, nearly perishing in the attempt. He confronts Winter a second time (this full-page picture was so frightening I kept it under my pillow to sneak glances in the night). Pookie confesses he had been wrong, apologises, and begs Winter to return. The little rabbit now realises that the seasons have a purpose, that lazy or foolish animals with ill-sited burrows or nests have to be shown their folly, and every creature given an incentive to work hard, prepare and store.
Admiring Pookie’s courage, Winter relents, agrees to return, and wafts the exhausted bunny home on a storm cloud.
Being a confirmed enemy of winter as we all know it and a believer in directing human ingenuity toward a tightening of winter to the length of one month and a radical reduction of the shortened winter event to immaculate winter wonderland conditions, I would tend to extend the lesson to be learned from the above story to approximate more of a conservative-progressive compromise: let us respect personal responsibility as a pivotal means for changing the world in unheard-of ways. Let us not just brave what is, but achieve what is not yet. And let us not be too shy to do it collectively.
The late Sir George Martin [producer and arranger of The Beatles] created substantial British exports. Had the import of his music to America been banned to save the jobs of US musicians, Britain would have missed out on some revenue but the American consumer would have been the biggest loser, missing out on the music. Trade benefits the importing country: that’s why it happens.
Frankly, we might as well be living in the 17th century, so antiquated are our current debates over trade, both here over Brexit and in America over the presidential nominations. Many current assumptions about trade were debunked more than two hundred years ago and then tested to destruction in the mid-19th century.
In the 17th and 18th centuries European governments were in thrall to “mercantilism”, the belief that the purpose of trade was (roughly) to push exports on to other countries in exchange for cash and so build up a surplus of treasure with which to pay armies to fight wars. So they sought to restrain imports with tariffs and bans, while encouraging exports with monopolies and gunboats. Britain’s Navigation Acts after 1651, and the chartering of companies such as the East India Company, were part of this policy.
Along came Adam Smith and made a different argument, that mercantilism punished consumers and the poor, while rewarding producers and the rich; that imports were a good thing because they raised people’s standard of living by giving them what they wanted at lower prices. With money to spare, consumers bought more things from producers, creating jobs and generating prosperity. If bread was cheaper, people could afford more textiles. Gradually, with the help of David Ricardo and John Stuart Mill, Britain was persuaded of this and by the time Robert Peel, William Ewart Gladstone and Richard Cobden were in charge, Britain had declared unilateral free trade and dared the world to follow.
It is true that unilateral declarations of free trade, while benefiting everyone as consumers, can hurt those producers who have previously been protected from competition by tariffs and other barriers. Because the pain is more concentrated than the gain, their voice is louder, and Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders have been amplifying it. (America has never been as convinced by the free trade case as Britain: its infamous Smoot-Hawley tariffs of the 1930s worsened the depression and hastened war.)
Yet the effect of trade on jobs is no different from the effect of innovation. Just as imported Chinese goods have destroyed the jobs of British manufacturers, so threshing machines destroyed the jobs of farm labourers, washing machines destroyed jobs in laundries and Uber will destroy the jobs of taxi drivers, yet everybody was net better off.
Governments should certainly compensate people for locally destructive effects of changing trade or technology, but not by raising barriers against imports. That just punishes consumers and stifles economic growth.
Ridley denies that the
... European single market is a free trade area. It’s not: it’s a customs union — a fortress protected by an external tariff. And it’s shrinking as a share of world trade.
Ridley thinks, the UK would be better off after a Brexit:
Professor Patrick Minford of Cardiff Business School argues in a recent study that the single market distorts Britain’s economy, making us “produce more of what we are worst at and less of what we are best at, while our consumers have to pay excessive prices”. If Britain left the EU it would gain about 4 per cent of GDP as a result, he calculates.
Posted by Georg Thomas on 03/25/2016 at 07:43 AM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Books & Media, Current Affairs, Economics, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Media/Media Bias, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Social Philosophy, Taxes and Spending, Technology, Internet | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | |
The black-and-white aspect of politics also encourages people to think in black-and-white terms. Not only do political parties emerge, but their supporters become akin to sports fans, feuding families, or students at rival high schools. Nuances of differences in opinions are traded for stark dichotomies that are largely fabrications. Thus, we get the “no regulation, hate the environment, hate poor people” party and the “socialist, nanny-state, hate the rich” party—and the discussions rarely go deeper than this.
No doubt, partisanship can be exaggerated to the point of becoming dangerous and destructive. I am not going to repeat what I said above about political dichotomies being the very rationale (among other rationales) of practising politics, and the many features of a modern political order dedicated to attenuating the most detrimental effects of radical antagonisms. My purpose is not to reject out of hand the authors misgivings about politics, but to show that in their criticism they are looking at only one side of the overall story.
We tend to indulge in a rationalistic perception of politics, which is natural as we are apt to assess most political arguments in as rational a way as we are capable of. For this reason, we may not feel particularly inclined to recognise "the sense in the nonsense" that much of politics may bring about, the symbolic, ritualistic and sublimational functions of politics which help build and structure, maintain and develop multi-ideological communities.
Symbols and rites can serve the function of ordering society, i.e. keeping it in a working condition especially by preventing violence and oppression. The symbols and rites of bipartisanship may well serve the purpose of a war dance that replaces the need for outright war.
I believe, it is necessary to focus far more than is customarily done on the spontaneous order of politics and the state, which may well contain features that turn politics into a valuable part of modern civilisation without anyone intending the system to work and have effects as it does, thanks to overall results achieved by human action but not by human design.
As in the spontaneous order of the economic world, ignorance is a key challenge that needs to be met by the political order for a modern civilisation to emerge. We are hugely ignorant vis-à-vis the countless topics that tend to occupy the political mind. Some of that vacuum of ignorance can never be filled with secure knowledge. We resort to unreliable, woolly, and non-scientific ways of filling the void. Sure, we begin to tell one another stories that may be well on their way to scientific respectability, but many of them may have no hope to ever become more than just-so stories.
Politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans, and often worse because politics is more morally charged. Most Americans find themselves committed to either the red team (Republicans) or the blue (Democrats) and those on the other team are not merely rivals, but represent much that is evil in the world. Politics often forces its participants into pointless internecine conflict, as they struggle with the other guy not over legitimate differences in policy opinion but in an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice.
Again, in human communities, especially in large ones, we cannot help but face fundamental differences of some kind or other in our views and objectives. We shall hardly be able to ever get rid of that phenomenon. In fact, freedom encourages diversity of opinion and vision.
I cannot see how anyone, including us libertarians, should be able to determine for the rest of us what counts as legitimate differences in policy opinion - it is part of politics to compete over this question. Also, I cannot see that we libertarians refrain from an apocalyptic battle between virtue and vice. We are part of the symmetric pattern that is being formed by opposing discussants. Political opposition has an experimental side to it. We need to find out, what it is that we disagree about and what avenues may open up to resolve differences. Furthermore, political opposition has a ritualistic side to it (see also my remarks under section 8 above). There are a number of powerful reasons to form partisan groups (see below), and if a population is divided among two or three major, traditionally viable camps, this may be a sign of stability, especially if being part of a camp means that (a) one's strongest convictions and political feelings are powerfully represented in the political system and that (b) therefore there are overwhelming incentives to keep the competition non-violent, non-oppressive, and open for challenges and new developments. Being part of a very strong camp can be a "relaxing" experience, i.e. encouraging trust in the prospects of non-violent negotiations, alternating preeminence (in government) and compromise (on the level of the operative bureaucracies in which political fiat is ultimately hammered out).
So what matters is how we deal with antagonisms. The principles of liberty are one of the means by which we attempt to keep the level of tension reasonably low among millions of people with different and even incompatible preferences.
Why do we become partisans? A political agent that is powerful - intellectually and in the exercise of influence - can be helpful in reducing (subjectively experienced) rational ignorance and strengthen one's sense of responsibility and engagement - "alone I cannot do anything about outrage X, but as member of a larger group, I can." In that way, partisanship creates leverage that people will always seek, for better or worse. Having said that, we should expose such leverage to criticism where it malfunctions, but we should also be sensitive to instances of success, which certainly exist - a partisan community improving ones's knowledge and furthering a worthwhile cause. Also, there are natural and legitimate reasons to feel drawn to this group rather than that one, and thus there is a expansive need to manage legitimate partisan differences.
As for "politics like this is no better than arguments between rival sports fans:" I happen to support the soccer team of my hometown. I am pretty sure, had I been brought up in a different town, I would be supporting a different team than today. Social outlooks and political affiliations too are often a matter of upbringing and, in principle, no less worthy of tolerance than other core elements of a person's socialisation that - like her religious faith - appear to be largely determined by location/accident of birth.
How can this be? Republicans and Democrats hold opinions fully within the realm of acceptable political discourse, with each side’s positions having the support of roughly half our fellow citizens. If we can see around partisanship’s Manichean blinders, both sides have views about government and human nature that are at least understandable to normal people of normal disposition—understandable, that is, in the sense of “I can appreciate how someone would think that.” But, when you add politics to the mix, simple and modest differences of opinion become instead the difference between those who want to save America and those who seek to destroy it.
The authors make a distinction between two fundamentally distinct worlds:
For reasons explained above, such a complete separation of political views and the world of politics is unconvincing. However, this artificial dichotomy is rather characteristic of the libertarian view of politics, which latter is deemed to be essentially an admixture of malice and evil.
This behavior, while appalling, shouldn’t surprise us. Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking. Your “teammates” are held to less exacting standards of competence, while those on the other team are often presumed to be mendacious and acting from ignoble motives. This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Research shows clearly that we live in a far more peaceful world than our ancestors, and that the movement toward open access societies with their avenues for mass political participation is a movement toward less violence and more peace. The big challenge that needs to be dealt with successfully before modern civilisation can unfold are violence and trust. We need to reduce violence and increase trust to such an extent that people can become productive, immensely productive compared to most of mankind's history. We achieve this by a co-evolution of (a) economic relations and (b) conducive political structures. Politics is also a grown order, yet adapted to different tasks than the economy. It would seem to me that a presumption in favour of the civilising function of politics is a more promising hypothesis (to be challenged in a thousand ways) than the preconception that politics is the big spoiler of advances in our civilisation.
Psychologists have shown for decades how people will gravitate to group mentalities that can make them downright hostile. They’ve shown how strong group identification creates systematic errors in thinking.
That may well be. But the story does not end here. Civilisation is all about finding ways around dysfunctional kinds and levels of hostility. Civil society is one big complex set of arrangements to challenge tribal uniformity and foster individualism, pluralism, and a permanent and multi-pronged onslaught against strong group identification. Practicing group identification in a free society is a totally different exercise from what it used to be in closed access societies or tribal formations. Politics is the driver behind the dynamism that constantly challenges what shapes of group identification may be forming at a certain point in time. We are witnessing tremendous fragmentation and turn over of group identification thanks to our pluralistic political order. Group identification can succeed best in a stable world with strong taboos against or simply an absence of critical challenges, such as they are being organised by modern politics. It would seem that the great distinct paradigmatic blocks in politics are more like tectonic plates that grate one another, rather than one plate slipping over and thereby subduing the other plate.
This is yet another way in which politics makes us worse: it cripples our thinking critically about the choices before us.
Taken altogether, I have great difficulty to see how the political culture of a free society can be characterised as predominantly, even essentially crippling our thinking critically about the choices before us.
The human ability to think critically, express dissent and positive opinion, advertise one's own view and challenge adversaries, along with the means that support critical analysis (like the internet) has never been surrounded by a more friendly and conducive environment than today's pluralistic democratic political order.
The issues that politics must deal with are often extremely difficult and many can never be resolved harmoniously, but why should we feel entitled to indulge in a stabilised harmony?
What’s troubling about politics from a moral perspective is not that it encourages group mentalities, for a great many other activities encourage similar group thinking without raising significant moral concerns. Rather, it’s the way politics interacts with group mentalities, creating negative feedback leading directly to viciousness. Politics, all too often, makes us hate each other. Politics encourages us to behave toward each other in ways that, were they to occur in a different context, would repel us. No truly virtuous person ought to behave as politics so often makes us act.
It would be helpful if the authors explained more fully what they mean by politics. What I read suggests that to them politics is exhaustively described as the business of fomenting hate between human beings.
Also, it is not uncommon even for people who live or work together for long periods of time to feel strong antipathy for certain traits and habits in another person, without ending up in a radical conflict. When playing the game "being a soccer fan," I do not appreciate my brother-in-law cheering for the opposing team, but when playing a different game like "exploring the cultural treasures of Barcelona," we get on like a house on fire.
My impression is that in general people are quite capable of making a distinction between political divergence and other modes of human interaction. In fact, it is rare that people hate me for my political convictions; some of my friends think of me as a right winger and, notwitstanding that ugly wart, go on having a great time with me.
Again, I feel that our political culture tends to encourage tolerance and the avoidance of extreme and pointless confrontations, both among the broader population and among activists, the more confrontational among which being too easily mistaken for the larger numbers of reasonable participants in politics.
While we may be able to slightly alter how political decisions are made, we cannot change the essential nature of politics. We cannot conform it to the utopian vision of good policies and virtuous citizens. The problem is not bugs in the system but the nature of political decision-making itself. The only way to better both our world and ourselves—to promote good policies and virtue—is to abandon, to the greatest extent possible, politics itself.
The last two sentences have merit in that they give us an incisive summary of the wrongheaded approach to politics that is unfortunately predominant among libertarians, even defining the libertarian.
While the affordability of immigration may be waning in the recipient countries, it is increasing precipitously among the people prone to emigrate.
When a poor country starts to become richer, its emigration rate soars – until it’s a middle-income country, like Albania. Only then does extra wealth mean less migration. [...]
‘As the benefits of economic growth are spread in Mexico,’ Bill Clinton once assured Americans, ‘there will be less illegal immigration because more Mexicans will be able to support their children by staying home.’ When José Manuel Barroso led the European Commission, he made the same argument, saying that third world development would tackle the ‘root causes’ of migration. In fact, the reverse is true ... [...]
[G]lobal poverty has halved over 25 years. The poor world is becoming richer, so people are on the move. War acts as a catalyst; far more of those affected by violence have the means and inclination to flee. But globally, there is less war and less poverty than at any time in our history. The Great Migration should be understood as the flip side of the greatest triumph of our age: the collapse in global poverty.
Study after study shows this to be the case. When aid was given to poor rural Mexican villages in exchange for occupants attending school and health clinics, it led to them leaving rather than staying.
Theresa May is right in saying that when middle-income countries become richer, the migration rate falls. But even the politicians who make this caveat talk as if this process a short-term thing. In fact, it takes generations.
In 1948, the UK government passed the British Nationality Act allowing all 600 million of Commonwealth subjects to live and work in Britain. Here’s Andrew Marr, in his superb History of Modern Britain:-
“It was generally assumed that the Black and Asian subjects of the King would have no means or desire to travel to live in uncomfortable, crowded Britain. Until the fifties, so few black of Asian people had settle in Britain that they were often treated as local celebrities. Officially, it was not even considered worth while trying to count their number.”
Indeed, hardly anyone took up this offer; even during the partition of India, which claimed a million souls and displaced ten times as many, there was no clamour to seek refuge here. The Indians and Pakistanis were far, far poorer than they are today – but that’s the point. They were so poor that not many could afford to come to Britain, not many had means of finding out that a better life was available. Why go to this cold, wind-battered island – which itself was losing people to the New World?
In 1951, the UK signed the UN Refugee Covention saying that we’d shelter anyone–anyone!—with a well-founded fear of persecution. Such offers were easy to make, then, because no one really had been showing up [...]
The entire article.
Writes Dan Hannan:
Official policy in Europe is based on a misdiagnosis. The migrants are treated as refugees, [they hail] from countries that we never bombed — except with aid money.
Vast as the numbers are, this is just the start. More than a million settlers — some estimates say a million-and-a-half — entered Germany in 2015. [...]
The European Commission says that 60 percent of those entering the EU illegally are economic migrants rather than refugees; but it has no idea how to return hundreds of thousands of sans-papiers — or where to return them to. Sweden admitted 163,000 entrants last year. Its interior ministry now says that more than half of them are not genuine refugees.
The entire article.
See also Immigration and Freedom (6/10).
Posted by Georg Thomas on 03/17/2016 at 02:57 PM in A Climate of Changes, American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Current Affairs, Economics, Georg Thomas, History Lessons, Media/Media Bias, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Social Philosophy, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | |
How do negative interest rates work anyway?
Paul Solman: But how are negative interest rates supposed to work?
Mohamed El-Erian: Let me tell you the theory, and let me tell you what happened in reality. The theory is that if you take interest rates negative, people like you and me are going to say, “That’s a silly game! I’m not going to lend my money to governments who want me to pay them. I am going to go into the stock market where I can get positive returns!”
Paul Solman: Or if I’m a company, “I’m going to invest in some new technology or factory or something.”
Mohamed El-Erian: Correct. The idea is to push households and push companies to take on more risk. In one case, financial risk — the stock market — in the other case, economic risk. Economic risk is investing in, say, plants and equipment. So let’s look at the first one. You take financial risk, you push up the price of stocks.
Paul Solman: Of which has certainly happened.
Mohamed El-Erian: Which has happened. You and I then open a 401(k), and we say, “Wow, we’re richer!” In theory, we trigger what economics call the wealth effect. Because we feel we’re wealthier, we go out and spend more.
As we spend more, and as companies are pushed to invest, they say, “Hey wait a minute! There’s more demand in the system. Let’s invest more.”
And then the third element is that if you happen to be the only one with negative interest rates, you also weaken your currency, which means you make your exports more competitive.
I've divided this graph up into "net tax payer states," "break-even states" and "net tax receiver" states. The lightest shade of blue are states that, by far, pay in more than they receive back, such as New Jersey and Minnesota. The next lightest shade of blue are states that are more or less "break even" in the sense that spending and tax collections hover somewhat around a 1-for-1 relationship. The darker blue states are states that receive considerably more in federal spending than they pay in taxes.
The entire analysis.
John Stuart Mill was a passionate believer in public debate, and felt with Spinoza that
the "collision" of ideas sharpens the minds of all parties, yielding suggestions no one would have lit upon in isolation and producing decisions more adequate than any proposal presented at the outset. Public opinion is a progressive force only when it is formed in a free-for-all public debate. Without institutional inducements for public criticism and opposition, in fact, political unanimity is likely to be a sign of irrational conformism.
Thus writes Stephen Holmes in his masterly Passions and Constraint. On the Theory of Liberal Democracy.
Beneath these political claims lies an epistemological principle that later came to be known as fallibilism.
[See also Socrates - Understanding Understanding]
Often there is no simple correspondence between reality and the perceptions of our minds.
So how can we know if our beliefs are true? Mill's trenchant answer was that "the beliefs which we have most warrant for, have no safeguard to rest on, but a standing invitation to the whole world to prove them unfounded." [...]
The Political Representative - Delegate or Trustee?
This fallibilist epistemology inspired many of Mill's political proposals. Consider, for example, his support of a trustee as opposed to a delegate theory of representation. A delegate is a mere agent, sent to parliament to express the opinions of his constituents and subject to immediate recall if he deviates an iota from his mandate. A trustee, by contrast, has ampler room for maneuver. He can vote as he thinks best, using his discretion, disregarding occasionally, if only temporarily, the opinions of his electors.
The delegate model is objectionable, according to Mill, because it implicitly rejects the epistemology of fallibilism. It implies that a representative has nothing important to learn from an uninhibited give-and-take with fellow deputies. But this assumption is unrealistic: "If he devotes himself to his duty," a representative "has greater opportunities of correcting an original false judgement, than fall to the lot of most of his constituents."
The decisive superiority of deputies over citizens lies not in higher intelligence, virtue, or education, therefore but in the unusual nature of the legislative situation itself, a situation which, according to Mill, fosters self-correction. Voters are parochial. They are seldom exposed to the clashing viewpoints of fellow citizens which live in remote parts of the country. No one is ever invited to prove them wrong or rewarded for disclosing their follies. Voters should defer to representatives, therefore, although only in the short-run, not because members of an elected assembly are likely to be especially virtuous, but rather because representatives enjoy the eye-opening benefits of exposure to stinging criticism and relentless debate.
A modern legislative assembly is a machine for public learning because it guarantees that rival political proposals will be "tested by adverse controversy." Deputies are encouraged not only to uncover each other's errors but also to change their own minds whenever they become convinced that they have been laboring under an illusion. If recanting is intelligent, then it can be justified publicly, even to the voters back home, at least eventually. Accountability requires that deputies explain their decisions to their constituents. Because explanations of difficult issues take time, however, a system of immediate recall would make a mockery of government by discussion. Far from being antidemocratic, the trustee theory of representation simply recognizes that public learning, or the collective correction of collective mistakes, can never be instantaneous.
(p. 180 - 182)
Posted by Georg Thomas on 12/03/2015 at 11:13 AM in American Culture, Anti War libertarians, Barack Obama, Books & Media, Current Affairs, Economics, Electoral Prospects, Film, Georg Thomas, National/International Affairs, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Rand Paul, Republicans, Taxes and Spending | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | |
4.0 New Strategies for a Paradigm Shift (1850 - 1900) - Economising Justice and the Machinery of Legitimation
In a free society, attempts at spurring innovation of the political infrastructure are an important part of the discovery process supported by politics and the state. A formative outcome of political innovation specific to an open-access society is the shift in the relative weight of decisions or policies designated as “just” compared to those categorised as “legitimate.” In traditional, culturally uniform societies with little value diversity, the minutest details of life may be regulated in terms of being “just” or “unjust.” In a complex and populous society that grants considerable personal autonomy, there is a need to economise on absolute judgements. Justice as an absolute value becomes reserved to authenticate fundamental requirements of coexistence, the constitutive rules of the game. Many other contentious issues are processed by the political infrastructure to classify them as “legitimate” or “not legitimate.” Once a policy proposal has passed the various tests of legitimacy it may still not be regarded as “just” by sizeable numbers of players, but it will be tolerated as “legitimate,” i.e. legitimately arrived at. For instance, legislation concerning abortion may be countenanced as “legitimate” by the same people who view it as “unjust.” The political construct of legitimacy provides a peaceable diversion around a deadly battlefield where absolute concepts of justice collide unforgivingly. Again, we encounter a case of repeated games helping to transcend rational impasses by showing promise to improve the odds for mutually advantageous long-term conditions of coexistence. It is for this reason that the machinery of legitimation figures as a prime target for political innovation in a free society.
When by the mid-1800s restrictionist interest groups found themselves cut off from effective political support by the dominant parties, and emerging third parties congenial to their cause foundered, they poured energy into developing innovative ways to influence the machinery of legitimation. By (1) aligning themselves with trendy intellectual developments favourable to their cause and (2) pioneering extra-party and non-electoral forms of political influence they came close to bringing about a shift of paradigm in the public outlook on immigration.
As for intellectual developments, one needs to bear in mind that for many people it used to be second nature to think of certain other humans in racial, quasi-racial or otherwise discriminatory terms. The inviting attitude in regard to immigration was largely a form of favourable racial discrimination confined to males hailing from the Northwest of Europe. At the time, the Darwinian revolution was acquiring new guises in the social sciences, some influential variants of which would lend the dignity of science to blatantly racist taxonomies. Eugenics, founded by Darwin’s cousin Francis Galton, was beginning to gain popular credibility and scientific respect.
“In an outpouring of scholarly articles published during the 1890s, several of the countries most respected intellectuals fundamentally recast the American immigration debate.” (p.77) The new paradigm spawned a multi-variant arsenal of reasons for excluding aliens, such as differentiating between old immigrants, needful at the time and of hardy stock, and new immigrants, depraved, effeminate and unneeded in the face of an allegedly lessened demand of unskilled labour.
The movement was spearheaded by the Immigration Restriction league (IRL), an organisation founded by Harvard alumni fearing for their political and economic clout, and drawing support “from the ranks of upper-class academics, businessmen, politicians, and various professionals who saw themselves as the last line of defence for Anglo-Saxon traditions.” (p.76)
Taking skilfully advantage of (1) the newly acquired scientific semblance of discriminatory theories, and (2) frustration with corruption in politics, the IRL also pioneered new ways to benefit from (3) the growth of the federal state and the increased bureaucratic complexity of government.
Aware of the expansion of congressional administrative tasks and tools, protagonists of the IRL realised that the new standing congressional committees resembled what Woodrow Wilson was to designate as “little legislatures” and “the most essential machinery of our government system.” (p.76)
They set out to advocate Progressive notions of “scientific government” and “direct democracy,” capturing the bureaucracies’ natural need for and susceptibility to direct input by those successfully presenting themselves as experts. Given the intellectual climate and their direct connection with policy makers, restrictionists had the edge over expansionists, especially over the new targets of anti-immigration initiatives: politically unorganised newcomers from eastern and southern Europe. IRL activists became integral part of a national immigration policy network, supplying the pertinent House and Senate committees with a welcome stream of statistical material, research papers, and expert witnesses. In this way, the IRL was able to seize the initiative in shaping policies and providing rationalisations that reform-minded lawmakers were happy to ponder or even adopt.
The lynch-pin of the envisioned shift in the national policy paradigm was a bill requiring a mandatory literacy test for all immigrants.
In 1898, the bill won passage in the Senate, its success owing “much to the endorsement of the immigration committee, prominent support from social scientists, and the relative absence of interest group opposition.” (p.82) But when House and Senate conferees met to discuss the bill, increasingly organised interests, pro-immigrant business and ethnic groups, began to build a formidable front of resistance. The bill’s fate showcases how under political freedom different interests compete over the right to change the social contract. In the face of mounting opposition, the IRL ultimately failed to rally significant additional support for the bill, notably from organised labour, while key ethnic constituencies of the Democratic party exerted pressure on president Grover Cleveland to veto the literacy test bill. The president complied. However, the bill’s sponsors were confident that a large Republican majority in Congress would override the presidential veto. But the oppositional forces from business groups, German organisations, Jewish, Italian and Catholic leaders, the Chamber of Commerce and other organisations were relentless, demonstrating a cautious Congress the determination and prowess of a whole phalanx of pro-immigration interests. At the end of the day, Congress elected not to overturn the presidential decision. Also, the near success of the bill alerted oppositional forces to the political innovation that the anti-immigrant movement had been able to exploit to its advantage.
Political competition always affects and is affected by intellectual currents vying for epistemic hegemony in the public discourse. Both in a dependent position as well as a driving force, the political discovery process is enmeshed in the evolution of intellectual and scientific trends. A vast subject in its own right, we can only touch on the fact that politics is exposed to episodes of intellectual history whose soundness may be revealed, if ever, only by some considerable delay. Add to it that the subjects of political discourse may not be amenable to objective assessment, and that politics is faced with rational ignorance and substantive ignorance on a massive scale. Cognitive separation, i.e. completely different and irreconcilable perceptions, among the contestants in the political race is substantial, normal, and inevitable. It must be admitted and peaceably managed in a free society.
Discovery through political competition is not without risks, and it cannot guarantee the absence of severe error, but it is still the best way (1) to incorporate knowledge generated in civil society, (2) to keep politically dominant views exposed to ongoing corroboration and (3) to include the largest possible number of interest groups in the permanent sequel of repeated games that produce effective trust in society, thus bringing about the dynamic equilibrium of dissension and pacification which defines feasible freedom.
5.1 Lessons for Freedom
Classical liberalism tends to misunderstand or ignore the political logic of freedom, owing to a monadic conception of the rights underlying personal freedom. In theory, these rights are absolute, immutable, and monadic, i.e. attached to and owned by the individual in inalienable form. Under feasible freedom, however, people, in exercising their liberty, negotiate and renegotiate these rights, both in politics and in private transactions. Free citizens constantly renegotiate new permutations of feasible freedom, thereby constantly rewriting the social contract.
We detect an unexpected and rather incongruous similarity of deficiency in socialist ambitions for central planning and liberal calls for a depoliticised society. Both desiderata are based on incomprehension of a vital spontaneous order which concerns the economy in the case of socialism and politics and the state in the case of liberalism. Both political camps underrate or misconstrue the need and the logic of the indispensable discovery procedures required for strong economic performance and, respectively, the feasibility of civil society at large.
As there is no single person or group of persons capable of registering all inputs needed to calculate an efficient allocative distribution, Hayek suggests inclusion of all citizens in a free economy to approximate far better the needed range and quality of information. Analogously, no single person or group of persons is capable of registering the inputs needed to take better political decisions than are available from a regime that guarantees the possibility for all citizens to make their contribution to political decision making. Incongruously, liberalisms akin to Hayek’s insinuate the equivalent of an impersonal central planer by suggesting that observance of certain rules activate automatisms in a free society, notably the market mechanism and the rule of law, that reduce the need of politics to such an extent as to portray freedom as a state of affairs distinguished by the absence of significant levels of politicisation - a visionary predilection that amounts to the disenfranchisement of the public.
A free society, this is the claim of the present paper, is akin to a free economy, in so far as only the mobilisation of dispersed knowledge lodged in decentralised units (citizens and their organisations) can bring about a discovery process capable of sustaining human relations that make freedom is feasible.
Liberalism cannot fulfil its role in a free society unless it acknowledges that its leadership in matters of constitutional integrity does not carry over into the area of legitimate political discretion. And liberalism must recognise that within the boundaries of constitutional integrity there is substantial leeway for political discretion by players of quite distinct emphases of vision. Freedom remains an open-ended project.
In order to establish her meaning and detailed shape, liberty depends on a political infrastructure that engages contestants in a competitive discovery process that is likely to result in eclectic policy outcomes deviating from puristic ideological positions. Adaptability is a survival requirement for any agent participating in the political discovery process. Puristic ideologies fail to stay in touch with the diversity of interests and views that push toward concrete policies. Feasible freedom may be conceived of as a dynamic equilibrium balancing dissension and peaceableness. Approximating the balance requires that the competing agents continuously search for new information about the prospects of their agendas, swiftly adjusting the latter to sustain support and the power to exercise influence. Precise and consistent accounts of freedom such as endeavoured by classical liberalism play an important role in clarifying the rules of the discovery game and the inalienable contours of freedom, but they are too abstract and too general to be able to prejudge the differing aims that people ought to be free to pursue within the competitive political framework of an open access society. Ideologies lend impetus to freedom’s sine qua non: discovery by political competition, but they do so fruitfully only when being capable of changing and renewing themselves in response to the findings elicited by the search.
The success of politics under feasible freedom is to be judged by the ability to balance dissension and peaceableness under the auxiliary conditions of high levels of personal autonomy, productivity, and wealth. We may register good performance and even progress along these lines in the very presence of state of affairs that appear insufferable from a classical liberal point of view. But it should not be forgotten that classical liberalism is just a set of hypotheses, some of which are rejected by freedom. Freedom is not identical with liberalism. Freedom is not identical with liberalism‘s account or expectations of her.
Summary of Milestones of US Immigration Policies
Posted by Georg Thomas on 11/08/2015 at 03:38 PM in American Culture, Books & Media, Congress, Constitution, Georg Thomas, Grassroots Activism, Liberty Laid Bare, Presidency, U.S., Presidential Race--Then and Later, Pure Politics, Republicans, Social Philosophy, Supreme Court, Taxes and Spending, Technology, Internet | Permalink | Comments (0)
| | | |