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Matt Zwolinski
San Diego, CA
Professor of Philosophy at the University of San Diego
Recent Activity
Over the next couple of days, we are going to be moving the blog over to WordPress. The move should make for a number of improvements, but one result is that we will no longer be located on TypePad's server. So, if you currently have a blog or website that... Continue reading
Posted Apr 28, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
@Dan: You're right, of course, that I don't have a problem with using cocerion to protect one's property. So I was a bit imprecise in saying that the use of coercion to benefit my family is necessarily wrong. But I assume that both sides of the immigration debate take for granted the legitimacy of private property rights. If so, then both sides seem to be committed to the view that the kind of coercion involved in enforcing those rights is legitimate. By contrast, whether the state has a right to coercively prevent people from crossing the border is precisely what's at issue in the debate. The legitimacy of that kind of coercion is a separate issue from the legitimacy of the kind of coercion involved in ordinary private property rights - it does not follow from it. And since coercion is prima facie wrong, it needs a good justification. My own view is that citizenship rights (understood as the right to vote or run for office, and possibly even the right to benefit from various social services like Medicaid and Medicare) are less of a concern to the libertarian than the right to live in a country's territory, work there, associate and trade with its residents, etc. Potential immigrants, I suspect, can get most of the benefits of immigration without full citizenship. And the denial of citizenship doesn't seem to me to be straightforwardly coercive in the way that preventing someone from crossing a border does. So perhaps this closes some of the gap between us?
Thanks, Andrew. I was willing to let "silly" slip by, but at this point you're just being insulting. I'll continue this conversation with others.
@Andrew: You have not shown that the idea of open borders "just can't" be put into practice in a democracy. I don't know whether it can or can't. That's not my area of expertise. It's certainly not physically or logically impossible. So I don't see why talking about the idea and its justification is merely a "stimulating diversion" as opposed to good moral philosophy. Again, see the previous threads on ideal theory.
@Andrew: I don't disagree with you. I'm just puzzled why you're hammering me on this. I'm a political philosopher, not a political activist. I'm interested in working out the ideas. Someone else with more interest and talent at it can work on trying to implement them, if they choose. Surely there's nothing wrong with an intellectual division of labor here, right?
@Dan: There are two ways in which one can "privilege the interests of members of our families over those of others." One can do it by bestowing gifts upon one's family that one does not bestow others, and one can do it by coercing others for the benefit of one's family. I think that the first is permissible, and the second is not. @Andrew: Thanks for the comment - well, everything except the gratuitous first sentence of it. I admit that talking about processes of social change is important. But can't we separate the what from the how? Can't we talk about what an ideal society would look like without at the same time talking about how we should try to get there? One way that we make an ideal more realizable in a democratic republic is by trying to persuade people that the ideal is worth pursuing. That's what I'm trying to do here. Previous discussions on this blog about ideal theory seem relevant here.
@Mark: I can understand how somebody might make the kinds of criticisms you're voicing against open borders. I just can't understand how a natural rights libertarian like you can make them! You write: "If even a small fraction of the 6.5 billion foreigners came to this country at the invitation of some of our citizens it would profoundly change the nature of our society, probably in ways we can't even anticipate. These changes would affect everyone, whether or not the newcomers resided on my property against my will or on yours by invitation." But, Mark, don't people have the right to do all kinds of things that would profoundly change the nature of society? People have the right to choose their employment. But, horrors! If everyone chose to be a philosopher tomorrow, it would profoundly change the nature of our society! My life and yours would be affected negatively! Is this a reductio of free employment? Or, if you prefer an example more closely related to the current discussion, people have the right to move from any state in the country to California. If all of you did this, it would profoundly change the nature of California. Does it follow that we should suspend the right of free movement within the United States? With respect to my comments on your argument, I guess all I can say is that I still don't see it. I realize it's just a sketch of an argument, but it strikes me as a deeply implausible ones, for reasons that Michael expressed earlier, and which I've tried to elaborate upon (a bit) above.
@xephyr: Thanks for the comment! I'm almost complete agreement. The only modification I'd propose is this: you talk about a needy person in this country vs. an "equally needy" person outside. But, of course, it's worth remembering the typical potential immigrant is actually much more needy than the typical domestic citizen. Poverty in America is, for the most part, nowhere near as extreme or as difficult to escape as poverty in most of the world. So if you're concerned with distributive justice, the case for open borders is even that much stronger, it seems to me.
@Mike: I accept the (what I take to be) broadly Humean account of reason you set out in your comment. So, reason has some role to play in moral arguments, even if it in some sense the slave of the passions. But certain passions, such as repugnance and disgust, seem to enslave reason in a particularly perverse way, such that individuals are led to distort other aspects of their moral and empirical reasoning in order to sustain a plausible-sounding rationale for the repugnance-driven judgment. @Mark: I'm going to type this on the fly as I'm making dinner, and won't have a chance to proof it or think it over all that carefully. So I'll beg your pardon if I'm a bit sloppy or imprecise at points. 1) Intangibility is not the issue. I don't have a (conceptual) problem with intellectual property rights - I understand what they mean, and I understand the basic contours of the story that is supposed to morally justify them. I can't say the same for your account. You say that people in the United States have made investments, and that these investments give them a property right in "economic opportunities." But what does such a property right amount to, on your view? It doesn't really mean a right to exclude others from making use of economic opportunities, since of course non-citizens can invest and benefit from domestic economic opportunities in all kinds of ways. What it seems to amount to, for you, is a right to exclude people from the physical territory of the United States. And I don't see how such a right is plausibly construed as a property right in "economic opportunity," or how it is normatively related to the investments that others have made in creating that opportunity. 2) How is collective ownership of The Goods normatively prior to individual property rights? That seems backwards, to me. And how do we decide which ways the collective ownership of the goods limits individual property rights? Why does the collective have the right to prevent individuals from allowing "foreigners" onto their property, but not the right to prevent them from, say, smoking on their property, or setting up brothels? 3)If collective ownership of the goods arises from the joint activity of a number of discrete persons, it's not obvious why this should be exercised by the government. You need an argument for that. I take it to be a core element of the libertarian view that just because someone has a moral right to something doesn't automatically mean it's morally right for the government to enforce it. Finally, my own view is that yes, all 6.5 billion people have the right to come to the United States in any way that does not violate the rights of the citizens there. You can keep them from camping out on your front yard, of course, but you can't keep them from camping out on mine, if they have my permission. All 6.5 billion people have the right not to be forcibly stopped by the US government from entering into voluntary agreements with US citizens regarding their physical presence here, just as all 6.5 billion have the right to enter into economic exchanges with US citizens without coercive interference by the US government. The ethical foundation of the right to immigrate is the same as the ethical foundation of the right to move freely within a country, or the right to trade voluntarily with others. It is a right to be free from unjust coercion.
Interesting post, Andrew. I wonder if anyone has looked at the role of emotions in moral argument from a kind of Hayekian or Burkean perspective? Surely there's a kind of evolutionary story that could be told about the emergence of emotions like repugnance. And part of that story will no doubt suggest that such emotions are a "vehicle of accumulated social-relations knowledge," as you say. But it's not at all clear how much justificatory work such an evolutionary account can provide. A lot would seem to depend on the nature of the selection mechanism by which the relevant social evolution progressed. And things might vary depending upon which particular kind of emotion we're talking about - the strength of the reason we have for relying on empathy, and the contexts in which it is appropriate for us to do so, might differ from those relevant to the emotion of disgust. I know Martha Nussbaum has written on this, though I haven't read her work. Here's a short interview with her from Reason Magazine:
@Michael: Thanks for your input. I largely agree with your responses to others. Let me elaborate a bit on your response to @Mark: I'm doubtful that your argument succeeds on its merits, and I am even more doubtful that it is defensible as a *libertarian* position. - First, I am not sure what it means to "own" something like "economic opportunity" or "the rule of law." Suppose we grant that these things are owned collectively by the people of the United States, but also hold that individuals own their property in the way libertarians normally assume. How does collective ownership of the rule of law justify overriding the individual property owner's claim to let whomever he wishes onto his property? - Second, your argument is that (a) the people of the United States own The Goods, and (b) the rights of ownership are properly exercised through their government's immigration laws. Even if (a) is true, I'm not sure yet how (b) follows without some very controversial premises. - Third, suppose we grant (b). Doesn't your argument also justify all kinds of other regulation, of precisely the kind that libertarians are supposed to oppose? If the United States is like Blackacre, owned by the its citizens, and if the owners of Blackacre can decide how to run Blackacre by majority vote, then can a majority in the United States permissibly decide to ban smoking in public places? To raise taxes for support of the indigent? Etc.?
@Dan & Mark: I can respond in more detail tomorrow, but just to be clear: the point of my post was not that there are no plausible arguments against open borders, or price gouging or kidney sales or sweatshops for that matter. The points was that a lot of people - and really a lot of people who ought to know better - use arguments that are not good; that are indeed transparently bad. I do, in fact, think that the all the arguments that I have encountered against these things are ultimately unsuccessful. But that's a different argument than the one I'm making here.
@Dan: I take your point about formal validity. And you're right that it can be achieved by inserting the appropriate conditional. But still, compare the following two claims: (1) Torturing people causes pain, and therefore we shouldn't do it. (2) Providing education to blacks will help them achieve political power, and therefore we shouldn't do it. Both of these are technically invalid. And both can be rendered valid by the addition of a conditional. But the conditional that (1) needs is a relatively obvious and uncontroversial one. The conditional that (2) needs, in contrast, is almost certainly false. I think the same is true of the anti-immigration argument I presented in the post. As for your concluding questions, I'd refer you to the Huemer paper referenced in the post. I don't have much sympathy with the argument that analogizes nation-states to "clubs," and concludes that like clubs (or smaller 'communities' like homeowners associations) they must have the right to coercively exclude.
Ordinary people often give surprisingly bad arguments against libertarian conclusions. Take, for example, the libertarian case for open immigration. One of the most common responses to this proposal is the argument that because immigrants will rely heavily on various social welfare services and will cost US taxpayers a lot of... Continue reading
Posted Apr 25, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
@Student: Yes, I wouldn't have described it that way either. Sadly, I don't get to write the headlines.
@Mark: The bloatedness of Medicare and Medicaid, of course, is a product of a number of factors, many of which include what both you and I would judge to be other illegitimate government meddling in the economy. And, of course, most of the money spent here is benefiting the middle-class. If we really wanted Medicare to help people who can't afford to help themselves, we would means-test it. That there are better ways that the federal and state governments could help the poor is pretty clear. Your best counterargument, I think, is to point to public choice reasons that those better policies will never be politically feasible. I'm not entirely sure how to respond to that one. @KV: Yes, you're quite right. There are important differences between BHLs and the left not just on instrumental issues (though I think instrumental issues close a *lot* of the gap), but also on the weight and scope of certain common moral values like individual autonomy, and on sociological issues like those you mention. I probably could have been clearer about this in the piece, though the tight limits of the venue make it challenging.
Our multimedia extravaganza continues! The San Diego Union Tribune published a short opinion piece of mine on Bleeding Heart Libertarianism today. You can read it here. Continue reading
Posted Apr 22, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
Matt: Good points, both! Thanks! Aeon: I think Nozick believes that the proviso serves as a limit both on initial appropriation and on subsequent acts of transfer (inside or outside of civil society). The same concerns that motivate the proviso as a limits on original acquisition, he's arguing, also require it to limit subsequent transfers. Hence the proviso's "shadow."
The Pacific Division of the American Philosophical Association is coming to the city I call home this week. A few of us BHLers are on the program. If you're going to be there, stop by and say "hi." Wednesday, April 20th, 4:00 - 6:00 PM 2c Invited Symposium: Exploitation and... Continue reading
Posted Apr 19, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
Chuck: I take Locke's point about labor-mixing to be a necessary condition on the original appropriation of resources. But of course, once you've legitimately appropriated them, you're free to transfer them via exchange or gift (perhaps within the constraints of the "historical shadow" of the proviso). I don't know if Locke ever addressed the issue of inheritance explicitly, but I imagine he would look at it as primarily a function of the rights of the person who gives the inheritance, not those of the person who receives it. @Mark: 1) I certainly agree that Locke is making a natural law argument, and not a consequentialist one. But it does seem that the consequentialist considerations are for him (as they are for Nozick) essential in applying the law of nature in a way that justifies standard cases of original appropriation. But I might be missing your point (not sure what you're referring to with "bad" consequences). 2. You're right that he uses the term "charity," and perhaps this is more significant than I have it credit for. But (and I hope this responds to John's point as well), the tone and overall substance of the passage certainly seems to establish a presumptive case for an enforceable duty of "charity," even if it's not decisive, and even if we'd need to think much more about the best way for that enforcement to be carried out. If your title to the property that you acquire through legitimate labor mixing is enforceable, then why shouldn't my title based on need be similarly enforceable? Note also the example Locke uses in the last line of the quotation. I can certainly enforce a prohibition on you holding daggers to poor people's throats; if Locke thinks that this is essentially what the rich who deny the needs of the poor are doing, then why shouldn't we be able to use force to resolve that wrongdoing as well?
@Aeon: What do you think about Robert Nozick's claim that the proviso casts a "historical shadow" over acts of transfer after the initial appropriation? (around p. 180 of ASU)
Few political philosophers have had an influence comparable to that of John Locke. In his own time, he was a revolutionary whose ideas ultimately triumphed in the Glorious Revolution of 1688 with the overthrow of King James II. And not too long after his death, his ideas would have tremendous... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
It's come to my attention that at least some people who subscribe to our RSS feed are having a problem where all posts are listed as being authored by me, Matt Zwolinski. I'm not sure yet whether this is a problem with Typepad or with Google's Feedburner service, and haven't... Continue reading
Posted Apr 14, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
his series will view the history of libertarian thought through the lens of “Bleeding Heart Libertarianism.” This means two things. First, it is going give special focus to its subjects’ views on the relationship between individual liberty, limited government, and social justice. Second, one of my goals in this series is to argue for a thesis, namely, that bleeding heart libertarianism is not new. More specifically, I’m going to be arguing that bleeding heart libertarianism is actually more consistent with the libertarian intellectual tradition than the variety of libertarianism that rejects social justice outright. Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2011 at Bleeding Heart Libertarians
Thanks for the comments everyone. I've been reading them with great interest, especially the recommendations for further reading on the topic. Thanks to Jennifer especially for looking into the question of indentured servitude a bit more thoroughly. I'm not surprised that such contracts are illegal. But of course that leaves open the interesting philosophical questions about their morality. I'm inclined to think that there isn't anything intrinsically objectionable about such contracts, even if it also probably the case that the great bulk of such contracts as they are executed in the real world are morally problematic for various contingent reasons (i.e. that they involve deception, coercion, exploitation, or some mix of these).