Individuals, tribes & classes

How do genuine liberals (as correctly defined) view the world? As a collection of individuals.

How do conservatives view it? As a collection (clash?) of cultural communities.

Socialists? Economic communities (or blocks).

Communists? Classes.

Fascists? Tribes, nations or races.

People have drawn many diagrams to depict the political spectrum. But they don’t make sense to me. So I drew my own (in the new Google Draw. Try it.) Here it is:

This way of looking at the spectrum might help you to explain “left” and “right” to a child, should you ever need to. (More about the historical and arbitrary origins of “left” and “right” in a subsequent post.)

If you view the spectrum not as a matrix or a line but as a loop or circle, things become clearer. Liberalism then reveals itself to be not the “place in the middle,” the “split-the-difference” no-man’s-land of compromise and moderation, but the extreme and radical opposite of collectivism, which includes everything from Nazism to Communism.

Yes, Liberals care most about freedom, whereas collectivists tend to care more about “equality” (insofar as it pertains to the group of interest to the respective collectivist — ie, the class or the tribe.)

But the debate is not merely about the desired outcomes — freedom vs equality — of policy. It goes deeper. It is a debate about the unit of analysis. What — or rather whom — do we care about? What matters?

As a liberal, I instinctively choose individuals. People matter.

Now, it’s easy to lampoon this instinct. The caricature usually involves a quote from Margaret Thatcher, when she allegedly said:

There is no such thing as society. There are only individuals.

Here is what she actually said. As you can tell, it doesn’t come close to Ayn Rand in shrillness.

Individuals do form families and other groups, and liberals do care about those. But those are groups that individuals volunteer to form. (By contrast, I never volunteered to be American, German or middle class. Most of the time, I’m not even sure what those group memberships are supposed to mean.)

Let’s talk about Arizona

Enough prologue. Let’s talk about the new Arizona law against illegal immigration.

In my article in the new issue of The Economist, I try to analyze how the law and the backlash against it might affect American politics. My editor wrote a “leader” (ie, opinion editorial) to go along with it. And both of those pieces follow a short piece I whipped up the other day, when the law was first signed.

Now, it may not surprise you to learn that, in addition to the hundreds of, shall we say, passionate comments on our website, I have also been getting reader letters.

I have already regaled you with you my cavalier amusement at the tone of the American reader letters I get. But I must say, the mail bag of late has taken another turn for the worse. I leave it to your imagination.

So let’s step back and try to understand why I, and The Economist, would instinctively be

  • for more open borders,
  • for more liberal migration laws,
  • for freer movement of people.

Is it because I love Latinos, as some of my reader letters suggest (albeit in a different vocabulary)?

Well, yes it is. I do love them. Though no more so than I love Eskimos, Wasps and Tibetans. I love them all, but only as individuals.

There was a time, not all that long ago, when only diplomats carried passports. Other people moved freely where they wanted to go. Just read Casanova’s memoirs. 😉

This sounds like an ideal world: Free individuals and families moving wherever they want to go, with a minimum of hassle (besides the natural stress of moving).

I admit that this was before some countries had welfare states which might attract poor migrants and thus be overwhelmed. This issue — whose taxes pay for whose benefits in a given land — must be addressed.

And I also admit that this was before terrorists (who already existed) had access to weapons of mass destruction. So this issue — how do we keep murderous migrants out — also must be addressed.

On the other hand, I do not admit that immigrants in general, whether legal or illegal, are more likely than natives to commit crimes, because research proves this not to be true.

Garden of Earthly Delights

So what would a liberal Utopia look like?

All individuals anywhere would be free to move to and live where they please, within basic and minimal parameters to address the two issues above.

Americans, for example, would be allowed to go to Latin America or Europe to pursue careers, loves and dreams. Latin Americans and Europeans would be just as free to come to America to do the same.

This would apply to the “high-skilled” migrants, such as Indian graduates from the Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT), probably the best university system in the entire world today. And it would apply equally to “low-skilled” migrants, because they, too, have contributions to make and dreams to pursue.

Is this realistic? Probably not.

But is it desirable?

That depends whether you view the world largely as tribes, classes or, as I do, individuals.

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58 thoughts on “Individuals, tribes & classes

  1. From what I read it appears that you think all ideologies see collections of people in one for or another. The only difference being how that collection is defined. Personally, I think the modern liberal (who now call himself a “progressive”) sees groups and not individuals. For instance, he sees people in terms of what ethnic group they belong to, or whether they are labor or management, young or old, etc. Those people in the demonstrations in (and about) Arizona are not representing themselves as individuals but as a members of a group.

    I find nothing wrong with the three things you are for. In fact, I am also for them. What I am opposed to is people knowingly breaking the law by crossing our borders illegally. I am opposed to a country which has much stricter laws regarding immigration condemning a state government for wanting our immigration laws enforced.

    Unfortunately, logic and reason regarding immigration laws have been replaced by emotion and demagoguery.

    Gaining control of a nation’s borders requires cooperation between the abutting nations. When one uses the other as a “safety valve” and one takes advantage to gain access to labor at a cost below legal labor then the “cooperation” is anti-productive.

    The problem will not be fixed by amnesty, either de facto or de jure.

    • You’re right that modern American “liberals” are less individualistic and rather more collectivistic/communitarian. But on The Hannibal Blog I always use the word “liberal” in its original and classic definition (and then put the link to my explanation in brackets, as above).

      I could just say “libertarian”, but that seems to have taken on a slightly different, more belligerent, meaning in America.

    • I could just say “libertarian”, but that seems to have taken on a slightly different, more belligerent, meaning in America.

      Yes, libertarian has a “different” connotation these days. I am leaning more and more in that direction myself. A matter of life experiences, I suppose. I still have some philosophical differences with the formal party but I find myself more in agreement with them than with the two major parties.

      I think the collectivism is a natural outgrowth of human history. From earliest times, man (generic) has formed groups for protection and support. Families grew into tribes, tribes grew into cultures and then into nations. And these groups have always competed against each other for resources.

      I think there is, however, an innate desire for individualism that has survived the ages.

  2. You eloquently and movingly make the case for the moral and human right of anyone to live and work anywhere in the world. As you would know, this freedom is enjoyed by the citizens of the European Union countries among the member countries.

    However, this freedom is conspicuously absent in another large free-trade zone, NAFTA (US, Canada, Mexico). Why?

    The case for the right to live where one wants can also be made on other grounds in addition to the moral.

    Given that it’s the current Received Wisdom that money and goods should move around the world freely, why can’t people also move around the world as freely? Since people (labour) are, with money (capital) and materials, the third indispensable element in production, people (labour) should have the same freedom to move around the world as do goods and money.

    As of now, goods and money have more rights than people. Why?

    Migration of large numbers of people has also proved to be a solution to mass poverty, because people moved to where the jobs were, and they thus improved their economic lot and got out of poverty.

    Sadly, allowing the free movement of people makes too much logical and moral sense for the majority of the brainwashed us, to stomach.

    • @Phil

      [comparing to EU]
      However, this freedom is conspicuously absent in another large free-trade zone, NAFTA (US, Canada, Mexico). Why?

      Because these are two entirely different animals. The EU is a federation of nations, grouped under a common ruling body. NAFTA is simply a trade agreement between nations and not a federation. So, goods and some services (trucking, for example) move freely so long as they are specified in the treaty but people are not.

      I would ask if the freedom of movement among the members of the EU is all that free? Is it, for example, as free as a US citizen’s right to move about the states? It’s a serious question, I am curious about this. Are there no border checks whatsoever beyond, say, agricultural inspections (as we have here in a few states)?

      I do like your image of people as labor (or “labour”) and that they should be allowed to freely move about anywhere in the world. The US does not restrict its citizens from moving out to seek their fortunes elsewhere but it does seek (somewhat weakly in certain areas, it seems) to restrict the flow of immigrants. This was not always the case. There was a time in our history when there “door” was wide open. Up until about 1882, I’d say, when we restricted the influx of Chinese immigrants. But we didn’t get real serious until 1891.

      In times of great prosperity, most nations welcome immigrant labor (at least on a temporary basis). When the economy turns sour, most nations seek to restrict immigration and may even expel non-resident aliens (those temporary immigrants and “green card” workers).

    • The “four freedoms” — free movement of people, money, goods and ideas — within Europe are among the greatest pieces of progress in human history.

      @Douglas: you ask about how that works. Within a core group of countries (Germany, Frances, Benelux etc) there are no visible borders anymore at all. You don’t need to bring a passport when crossing them. Between those countries and the remaining EU members, you bring a passport but, in my experience, walk through the border without even stopping.

      Re NAFTA: remember that the EU also started as “just a trade agreement” and then evolved.

      However, there is a very interesting academic literature about whether “regional blocs” (EU, Nafta, etc) are in fact BAD for a free and liberal world overall. That’s because the blocs often tend to be protectionist towards each other and distort the free movement of goods, people and money.

    • you ask about how that works. Within a core group of countries (Germany, Frances, Benelux etc) there are no visible borders anymore at all. You don’t need to bring a passport when crossing them. Between those countries and the remaining EU members, you bring a passport but, in my experience, walk through the border without even stopping.

      Seems a bit chaotic, how can anyone be sure who is crossing the border?

      Consider…. a citizen of a non EU country (say, a Ukrainian) crosses into Poland and then travels to Germany or any other EU member country.

      What about a person who ethnicity is outside of the EU (say, Pakistani or Indian) but who is a citizen of an EU member country (perhaps, GB) and he travels around the EU?

      I guess I am asking if he would be racially profiled?

      As I recall, the Common Market (or European Economic Community) evolved into the EU when it became clear there was insufficient governmental cooperation and structure to sustain it as it was.

      One of the major problems of any union such as this is the loss of national identity (the EU is struggling to build one). The US started with that, by the way, trying to establish 13 cooperating sovereign nations under the Articles of Confederation. We gave it up rather quickly in favor of a federal system.

    • how can anyone be sure who is crossing the border?”

      Nobody is sure, and that’s the beauty of it. We’re not sure who’s crossing from Oklahoma to Kansas or from Berkeley to Oakland either. And why should we know? (If we suspect someone of, say, terrorism, we’d want to track him whether or not he’s crossing a border)

      So yes, once a Ukrainian is inside of the “Schengen” (borderless) countries, he no longer needs to travel with a passport within them.

      Ethnicity: You’re kidding, right? You can be Turkish German or Lederhosen German, but your rights are the same. (If you’re asking about investigations into terrorism/crime leads, I hope those would target specific individuals.)

      Regarding teh evolution of the EU: Actually, the founders always envisioned a “United States of Europe”, ie a federal union. The famous phrase is “ever closer union”, ie a progression toward unification. But then the admission of Britain and the Scandinavians (who are not into union) created two camps.

      The loss of national identity is something everybody wants to avoid. Personally, I don’t think it’s a risk. Example: Sub-national identities (Catalan, Bavarian, Breton….) have THRIVED in the EU. It’s become a nuanced debate about what should be done at the “supra-national”, “inter-national”, “national,” and “regional” and local level.

      Actually, America is not such a bad example.

    • Ya, living here in the US, it’s never a problem that I or anyone else travel from, say, Massachusetts to New Hampshire or to anywhere else – only a few years after 9/11 did we even need to show a passport to get into Canada. That was always a great trip in college. I have a passport so I don’t mind showing it to get into Canada, but honestly I think that’s just to make people feel like the government is doing something. I doubt there is much, if any, increased security from the new requirement.

      On the nationalism point, I concur with Andreas. When I was living in England, I remember seeing the increasing popularity of St. George’s Cross (England’s flag) over the Union Jack (Great Britain’s). I know that’s anecdotal, but I think a decrease in nationalism is really the last thing anyone should be worried about. It reminds me of when Christopher Hitchens commented on Ayn Rand’s “The Virtue of Selfishness” noting that, “I don’t think there’s any need to have essays advocating selfishness among human beings; I don’t know what your impression has been, but some things require no further reinforcement.” For the record, I think Rand’s essays are worthwhile, but I couldn’t help laughing.

  3. “That depends whether you view the world largely as tribes, classes or, as I do, individuals.”

    In case of migration, it also depends on whether you look at plain numbers. The population of the area which comprises the modern day United States shot up from around five million plus Indians at the time of its founding to 300 million today, and the country is developing a water problem already.

    If folks were as free to migrate as you seem to advocate, given that the U.S. is the #1 immigration magnet in the world, what mechanism exactly would stop U.S. population from reaching and surpassing a billion? And then what about the water and other problems such crowding would cause?

    • Good point. Is there a maximum limit to the number of people the Earth can support? Is immigration just a shuffling around of people until all available space is consumed?

    • Of course there’s a limit to the number of people the Earth can support. I’m not exactly sure what the limit is, but I’m guessing if world population triples or even doubles again–as it has in the past 100 years–the fat lady will start singing.

      Likewise, there’s a limit to the number of people the U.S. can sustain, and I believe a billion would literally sink the whole country. I’m not quite sure how relaxing the borders any more than they are already relaxed could possibly not result in a billion or more.

    • I don’t want to divert the discussion from the subject, but an interesting debate is whether or not the fat lady isn’t in fact already out of breath and ready to take a bow (my feeling).

      The current economic crisis proves that current market systems do not have the resiliency to support the massive infrastructure investment that would be required to build desalination plants/irrigation systems to provide water and food.

      Unless we want to start eating Soylent Green.

    • If nothing else wipes out humanity first, overpopulation certainly will. It’s a hammer that is slowly coming down in plain view of everyone.

      Perhaps Mr. Larry Brilliant has a solution. Somehow I didn’t hear it on his list of worst threats facing the world.

      A lot of food and water is certainly wasted to sustain all the stupid livestock. I’m not sure what the exact figures are, but it takes a few gallons of water to produce a pound of potatos, and like a gazillion gallons per pound of meat. Something like that. It’s insane.

    • @Dan

      No, I can’t point to any actual examples of a country opening their borders (or having open borders) where 100+ million immigrants flooded into, mainly because there has never been a country like the United States that opened its borders to a world with six billion people, several billions of which are poor and desparate.

      I hope I’m underestimating the practical difficulties of migration. You may be underestimating the reputation and lure of the United States once word has spread that the borders are open.

      In characterizing Phil’s brave new world as fanciful, I echoed the sentiment expressed by the author of this post:

      Is it realistic? Probably not.

      I believe utiopian visions like this are based on the flawed understanding of basic human nature as being far more evolved than it actually is. It’s like going to a restaurant and having me as your waiter. You simply wouldn’t get what you ordered.

      I’m not sure what EU countries are so desperately poor that its nationals would flood the rich countries. My country, Austria, always had a huge influx of illegal Yugoslavians and Turks, and these two countries aren’t part of the E.U. (except for Slovenia, the northern part of the former Yugoslavia).

    • In case anyone is curious about the “limits” of human population we’re are no where near any limit. Especially in the United States 95% remains undeveloped. I also agree with Phil that not everyone would just flood into the US. Immigration follows the law of supply and demand like anything else. During the recession many migrants went home because of the lack of available jobs. Most people just don’t have the means or desire to make a costly move to the US even if they were perfectly legally allowed.

    • That may be true, but who wants to live in the Rocky Mountains, in Death Valley, or in a swamp? Not only that, how are all these people going to get to work, where are they going to work, etc., etc. There’s a big difference between having room and being able to support the population.

    • It’s not like mountains and deserts take up 85% of the US. There is plenty of space available. There shouldn’t be a question about that – find any figures that show otherwise and I’d be interested. We’re also not very densely populated in the areas that are developed on average. The US is 178th
      in the world for population density.

      If you think there won’t be enough jobs, why do you think they would come here? It’s not like they’d get richer just from being located in the United States – but it would cost them a lot to move. If they do have jobs we wouldn’t have to “support the population,” they’d be contributing to economic growth. Besides, there just isn’t any evidence that “billions” of people will come to the United States even if we substantially liberalize our immigration policy. It is important to look at evidence of trends not just imagined hypotheticals of worst case scenarios when considering policies.

    • I didn’t say “billions” of people would come here if the borders were open. Hundreds of millions probably, which the country couldn’t sustain no matter how much of it is “undeveloped.” The water situation isn’t going to improve by building higher houses.

      As long as the U.S. is a beautiful place and the richest country on earth, people will want to flood in here, jobs or no jobs. Why? Because being broke, homeless, and unemployed in the U.S. still is a big improvement over being broke, homeless, and unemployed in Bangladesh.

      But, in such a world there would be lots of other places to move to, as poverty everywhere declined, and news areas of prosperity created, because people, by moving, would be improving economic lot. Many Americans, in this brave new world, would freely choose to move elsewhere where opportunities were better.

      @Phil: Brave new world. Sounds good, except your theory may pan out a bit differently in practice than on paper.

    • @ Cyberquill

      How exactly would so many broke, homeless, and unemployed people from Bangladesh (or elsewhere) get to the US? I suspect some areas in the United States are better for the homeless as well but it isn’t as though all homeless moved to that one place – and that would presumably be a lot easier than traveling into a new country across an ocean. I think you’re underestimating the practical difficulties of migration.

      You should also be careful of calling the kettle black in your pithy reply to Phil. You may be engaging in more theorizing than Phil. In practice/real-life, immigration fits more in line with Phil’s characterization than yours. Hundreds of millions of migrants have never flooded any one place, overrunning it in some short span of time that I’m aware of. Can you point to any actual examples of a country opening their borders (or having open borders) where 100+ million immigrants flooded into?

      You argue that they would come “jobs or no jobs,” but that doesn’t fit with our experience here. During the recent recession immigration levels slowed and many went back home. During guest worker programs in the past, mexican and latin american workers would regularly just work seasonally while their guest jobs were available, heading home after. Open immigration in the EU hasn’t led to empty poor countries and overfilled rich ones. How do you reconcile this with your prediction?

    • “In case anyone is curious about the “limits” of human population we’re are no where near any limit. Especially in the United States 95% remains undeveloped.”

      If all any person needed to survive was an acre of land in Texas that’s fine, but currently we Americans consume far more than our landspace can produce. Can you grow all that you eat in a year in your yard? Even in your whole state? Yeah, bananas, rice and wheat don’t grow in my state either. The only reason that we have so much “undeveloped” land is because we are able to import the necesities (and luxuries) of life from other countries, which we then label as overpopulated because the produce of their land that is left, after export, cannot support their population (see Central America). Check out Scarcity and Survival in Central America by William Durham.

      Our ecological footprint is smushing the rest of the world (well, parts of it). But they can’t vote, can they? Or even log onto or read this blog.

      http://www.footprintnetwork.org/en/index.php/GFN/page/trends/us/

    • @ Jess
      “Our ecological footprint is smushing the rest of the world (well, parts of it). But they can’t vote, can they? Or even log onto or read this blog.”

      So your solution is to prohibit them from immigrating here?

      BTW, the only point I with the land argument is that there is certainly more than enough room. The availability of resources is another question. The solution (in a very general sense) that pops to mind is to increase the price of any resource that is in danger of running out. The tragedy of the commons is too often the norm for our natural resources.

      I don’t know your view specifically, but often people try to have it both ways saying that “no one owns X” while arguing out of the other side of their mouth that we’re using too many resources. Well, which is the bigger problem? One example I’m slightly more familiar with is the overfishing of our waters, which could be solved by selling tradable quotas (ITQs) to fishermen. If the water problems you and others have brought up are true (I have no doubt that they are) we should somehow increase the price of water.

      (this is Dan)

    • “……..If folks were as free to migrate as you seem to advocate, given that the U.S. is the #1 immigration magnet in the world, what mechanism exactly would stop U.S. population from reaching and surpassing a billion………?”

      You appear to assume that in a world where everyone was free to migrate anywhere, most people would choose the US.

      But, in such a world there would be lots of other places to move to, as poverty everywhere declined, and news areas of prosperity created, because people, by moving, would be improving economic lot. Many Americans, in this brave new world, would freely choose to move elsewhere where opportunities were better.

      Migration as a whole would therefore self-regulate, as national economies do under laissez faire.

      World population growth, which is currently fueled by poverty, would decline as poverty declines the world over, and standards of living rise as a result of the free movement of peoples.

    • @Phil

      You appear to assume that in a world where everyone was free to migrate anywhere, most people would choose the US.

      I don’t think he assumed anything, I think he made a logical deduction. Currently (and for the last hundred or so years) the US has been the #1 magnet for emigres. People come from all over the world, at great risk to to themselves and at great cost, to the US. Perhaps they shouldn’t. Perhaps they should head for China since it seems to be on a path to great prosperity. Or maybe India. Well, maybe China is not exactly the place to go if you wish to rise from poverty to financial success. And India might try to keep them out until they solve their own poverty problems.

      There is another factor in migration that I think you overlook… it’s called “access”. By that I mean accessibility from the impoverished country. We, the US, get more illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America than we do from anywhere else. At least it seems so. It is a matter of ease of access. With a porous border that is difficult to control and a lack of economic opportunity in Mexico and Latin America, the US is a logical choice. Just as Europe is the logical choice for Middle Eastern and northern Africa.

    • @ Douglas

      …….There is another factor in migration that I think you overlook… it’s called “access”. By that I mean accessibility from the impoverished country. We, the US, get more illegal immigrants from Mexico and Latin America than we do from anywhere else. At least it seems so. It is a matter of ease of access. With a porous border that is difficult to control and a lack of economic opportunity in Mexico and Latin America, the US is a logical choice………

      You make an interesting point. But, far from being porous, the US’s southern border is quite hazardous for the “illegal” immigrant to traverse. It’s so hazardous that not a few die on the way.

      However, once inside the US, the “illegal” immigrant is for all intents and purposes trapped, for he’ll be reluctant to leave the US if has to repeat the hazardous journey if he wants to come back again.

      With open borders, workers who come from Mexico or wherever, would be more likely to leave the US if they know they aren’t making an irrevocable decision if they do so.

      Once it is made as easy to come in to the US as it it easy to leave, then the law of supply and demand would work as well for labour as it does for goods and services and everything else in a free trade area.

    • @Phil

      You make an interesting point. But, far from being porous, the US’s southern border is quite hazardous for the “illegal” immigrant to traverse. It’s so hazardous that not a few die on the way.

      However, once inside the US, the “illegal” immigrant is for all intents and purposes trapped, for he’ll be reluctant to leave the US if has to repeat the hazardous journey if he wants to come back again.

      Two things:

      1. Many do make repeated trips. Once inside and able to obtain fraudulent but passable documentation, the returns are much easier. Even among those that are deported, repeat journeys back into the US happen. And, of course, there are the drug smugglers who go back and forth with alarming frequency.

      2. People are quite willing to risk their lives for better opportunity. People take leaky boats and slapped together rafts in hopes of making it to Florida from Cuba and Haiti. Many do not make it, some almost make it, and a fair percentage do get here.

      A look at some recent history might be helpful…

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Boat_people
      http://www.usimmigrationsupport.org/cubaimmigration.html

      The above linked stories illustrate the willingness of people to take great risks for a better life.

      It is nothing new. Look at the history of the US (first settlers and the pioneers who headed west), the migrations of various peoples in ancient times, and the numbers who have traveled from Latin America and Mexico in recent times.

      Oddly, we have an equally porous border on our north yet nowhere near the illegal immigration problem from that direction. Well, not so “oddly”, really. Canada is neither oppressive nor poverty-stricken so there is no desperation and little incentive to emigrate in a risky fashion.

    • @ Douglas

      ……….Many do make repeated trips. Once inside and able to obtain fraudulent but passable documentation, the returns are much easier. Even among those that are deported, repeat journeys back into the US happen………

      Even so, the numbers of people making these repeated return trips is likely comparatively small. According to *this piece*, the numbers of “illegals” entering the US over the last twenty years or so have not risen appreciably. But the numbers who stay have climbed because it is so difficult to return to the US if they leave and want to come back.

      Hence, but for stringent border crackdowns, the “illegal” population would be half what it is now.

      ……….And, of course, there are the drug smugglers who go back and forth with alarming frequency……..

      This wouldn’t of course be a problem if the use of recreational drugs was decriminalised, which was the case in the US before 1914.

      Why shouldn’t anyone in a “free” society be free to imbibe any drug he likes? This is another debate entirely, I know, but what criminalising recreational drug use, and criminalising “illegals” have in common is that they thwart the workings of the free market, because in the US there is a demand for recreational drugs, and a demand for the labour of the “illegals” which is being cut off by government decree.

    • @Phil
      Even so, the numbers of people making these repeated return trips is likely comparatively small. According to *this piece*, the numbers of “illegals” entering the US over the last twenty years or so have not risen appreciably. But the numbers who stay have climbed because it is so difficult to return to the US if they leave and want to come back.
      Hence, but for stringent border crackdowns, the “illegal” population would be half what it is now.

      Actually, there is no way to know how many make repeated trips nor is there a way to know, definitively, why they do or do not make repeat trips into and out of the country. It’s all guesswork and estimates. And I suspect most of those numbers are “fudged” to bolster preconceptions.

      For instance, I said nothing about the numbers or percentages of those making multiple trips across the border (because I do not know them). I just said they happen. And they do. Your cited article uses a source, Princeton University sociologist Douglas Massey, but no study or other documentation of what Massey claimed to be true… according to the author of the opinion piece you cite. It sounds important and official but it really isn’t. It is opinion and “hearsay evidence”. I would have liked to see a cite of Mr. Massey’s documentation, if there is any. Digging deeper for that documentation led me to find this:

      http://www.freetrade.org/pubs/pas/tpa-029.pdf

      In this article, I found this:

      By channeling
      undocumented flows into remote and
      more hazardous regions of the border, the border
      blockades have tripled the risk of death
      during crossing. The increased mortal danger
      was offset, however, by a declining likelihood
      of apprehension, so that few migrants were
      deterred from making the attempt.”

      (which seemed somewhat different than what Mr. Chapman claimed Mr. Massey told him)

      Which led me to ponder why they would refrain from making multiple crossings if it did not deter them them from making an initial one. The logical answer (for me) was that the only reason which actually might be a major factor in reducing repeat crossings would be fiscal. That is, the cost of crossing the border in both “coyote” fees and in loss of income while back in Mexico. But that logic also seemed to argue for the repeat attempts to return to the US if one is deported. After all, the lure of income in the US drove the illegal immigrant to cross the border initially in spite of the increased risk, why would it prevent him from returning if he was deported.

      Additionally, we are seeing estimates of 1 to 2 million illegal immigrants voluntarily returning to Mexico (and elsewhere) due to the downturn in our economy. So, apparently, the increased risk is not significantly impacting travel in that direction (out of the US).

      Of course, that is just my own logic and reasoning based upon what I learned from what you have cited.

  4. Not a practical response, but what can you do when you’re under the impression of Hieronymus Bosch?

    I can’t help but think of the famous excerpt from the Joseph Brodsky trial. His crime was parasitism, which, I suppose, implies the undeserving use of government benefits. Maybe that sounds familiar? Couldn’t this scene be easily adapted to an ICE proceeding?

    Judge: And what is your profession in general?

    Brodsky: Poet translator.

    Judge: Who recognized you as a poet? Who enrolled you in the ranks of poets?

    Brodsky: No one. And who enrolled me in the ranks of humanity?

    Judge: Did you study this?

    Brodsky: This?

    Judge: To become a poet. You did not try to finish high school where they prepare, where they teach?

    Brodsky: I didn’t think you could get this from school.

    Judge: How then?

    Brodsky: I think that it . . . comes from God.

    • Isn’t it fascinating how a picture (Bosch, in this case) activates this whole new way of thinking, as though the brain leapt laterally to another plain?

      I love this exchange, and the wonderfully Orwellian charge of “parasitism”.

      The judge’s questioning is a great reminder of our need to stay humble with regarding to pre-judging the contributions of others. Who decides who is a parasite?

      (I must assume that I, as a journalist, would have faced the same charge. As in Brodsky’s case, “nobody enrolled me in the ranks of journalism.”)

      In a roundabout way, your comment is very pertinent to this post. After all, in a world where some places have judges like this guy, what other way is there for people like Brodsky to pursue their life dream and make their contribution than to … migrate?

      And who would seriously want to deny such a Brodsky entry?

    • Well, I actually felt (and intended to convey) a much more direct connection between this exchange and the topic at hand.

      How is demanding formal enrollment in the ranks of poets any more absurd than demanding formal enrollment in the ranks of those permitted to live on this side of the border?

      Brodsky’s rejoinder about God, I believe, is not grounded in religion at all. I think he meant simply this: there is open enrollment to the ranks of poets for all who are born human. Isn’t that (or shouldn’t that) be true about where we live also?

      I meant something along those lines. Either that, or I just like Brodsky and try to inject him into all debates. That’s possible too. If I try it again, you’ll be on to me. 🙂

    • …….Either that, or I just like Brodsky and try to inject him into all debates……..

      What side would Joseph Brodsky have been on, in the immigration and “illegal” alien debate? And why?

    • Love it, Jenny, love it. I don’t know anything about Brodsky (which may change, with your help) but you’ve said it better than I did.

    • It’s a mighty fine Sunday morning when you are greeted with an open invitation to hold forth on Joseph Brodsky!

      Ahem. So, yes, well…

      OK, look, I can’t pretend to know what position Brodsky would have taken on this or any other policy issue. And I’m nobody’s idea of an expert on his life or his work. I jes’ like me sum versifyin’!

      I do feel comfortable, though, asserting that Mr. Brodsky’s allegiances were to individuals, not tribes or classes. Here’s what he said in his Nobel lecture:

      “If art teaches anything…it is the privateness of the human condition…it fosters in a man, knowingly or unwittingly, a sense of his uniqueness, of individuality, of separateness – thus turning him from a social animal into an autonomous “I”.”

      and then:

      “It is for this reason that art in general, literature especially, and poetry in particular, is not exactly favored by the champions of the common good, masters of the masses, heralds of historical necessity. For there, where art has stepped, where a poem has been read, they discover, in place of the anticipated consent and unanimity, indifference and polyphony; in place of the resolve to act, inattention and fastidiousness. In other words, into the little zeros with which the champions of the common good and the rulers of the masses tend to operate, art introduces a “period, period, comma, and a minus,” transforming each zero into a tiny human, albeit not always pretty, face.”

      That’s just beautiful, I think. And it seems to me that it’s the mark of a true liberal to value tiny human faces (even not pretty ones) over zeros.

      Thanks for indulging me.

  5. Well said, and worthy of rational discussion, which as you point out, is rather difficult!

    I quite like your political spectrum diagram. It made me stop and think for a while but I think you are on to something.

    • Retrace my thought process? Are you kidding?

      Seriously, what ran through my mind was (1) the challenges created by terminology (as you’ve pointed out–there are some emotionally laden terms that everyone thinks they know the meaning of) and (2) the desirability of being able to map a diagram like this across a wide spectrum of human behaviour (i.e., can it be both prescriptive and predictive).

      So I tried to think through whether this diagram would stand up if you called it “economic,” “ideology,” or “social structure.” I think it holds up pretty well. The only place it might not is if you try to relate it to government systems. You could define an idealized system of government responsive to each ideology but it would be hard to apply in practice (as history has shown) and unleash an additional firestorm of complaints.

      Don’t know if that makes any sense.

  6. In order to have the freedom of movement you dream of, we would need harmonized taxes and benefits worldwide so that moving from one country to another one would not loose what he has and would keep contributing to the general welfare.
    That in turn would require a world governement. We would then be a global country and borders would become obsolete.
    If we are to dream, let’s dream big time.

    • Hmm. Possibly a non-sequitur, methinks. (The world government part)

      The EU countries, to name just one example, have not harmonized taxes and benefits and yet they have freedom to move. And the sky has not fallen.

      What you’d get is a new self-sorting of people according to their preferences. Those who prefer an egalitarian society might move to Sweden, those who’d like more upward mobility might choose Britain. But for most people, these considerations would be secondary to their attachments to home, culture, family etc.

      We can also go back in history. There never was a world government, but there was free movement of people for most of world history.

    • Why yes, we can go back in history when there was free movement without border checks. For example, the Visigoths came on down to Italy– unannounced– and beat the hell out of the Romans. Of course, I guess in those days, the borders were wishy-washy.

    • Ah, but the Visigoths travelled as a tribe, not as individuals. We would call that an “invasion”, not a move, wouldn’t we?

      (Just picturing Attila’s move now: Instead of U-Haul trucks, a long line of “U-Hun” carriages….)

    • @Andreas

      What you’d get is a new self-sorting of people according to their preferences. Those who prefer an egalitarian society might move to Sweden, those who’d like more upward mobility might choose Britain. But for most people, these considerations would be secondary to their attachments to home, culture, family etc.

      I think, for the most part, you have that now… among those with the means. A few countries (China, North Korea, Cuba, etc) restrict their citizens’ freedom of movement but not all and a lot fewer than in the Cold War days. If you have the resources, you can pretty much live anywhere in the world you wish.

      It is the people without great resources and/or without a desirable talent or skill set that have difficulty. I don’t see how that will change without a complete breakdown of borders. And I do not envision that happening. In fact, I see the opposite.

      @Cheri

      Great example. The Huns pretty much ignored borders, too. As did Alexander the Great and any number of others.

    • The final words of Reagan’s final speech as president touch on the need for borders on the one hand — that is, “city walls” — and the free movement of people on the other:

      I’ve spoken of the shining city all my political life, but I don’t know if I ever quite communicated what I saw when I said it. But in my mind it was a tall proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, wind-swept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace, a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity, and if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.

      And how stand the city on this winter night? More prosperous, more secure, and happier than it was eight years ago. But more than that; after two hundred years, two centuries, she still stands strong and true on the granite ridge, and her glow has held steady no matter what storm. And she’s still a beacon, still a magnet for all who must have freedom, for all the pilgrims from all the lost places who are hurtling through the darkness, toward home.

      We’ve done our part. And as I walk off into the city streets, a final word to the men and women of the Reagan revolution, the men and women across America who for eight years did the work that brought America back. My friends: We did it. We weren’t just marking time. We made a difference. We made the city stronger. We made the city freer, and we left her in good hands. All in all, not bad, not bad at all.

      And so, good-bye, God bless you, and God bless the United States of America.

    • Same here. Not only could I, but I actually can look at it all day long. It’s not like I have a job or anything. Reminds me of Glenn Beck and all his little diagrams. Do you also weep a lot as you draw them?

      I love the world-without-borders idea in theory. In practice, however, I have a few reservations regarding the law of unintended consequences.

      So how to you think removing borders would affect U.S. population in terms of numbers? Would as many people emigrate as would immigrate and the overall increase in population remain largly static, i.e., merely triple in the next hundred years as it has in the 20th century?

      Or is there a point at which it would naturally level off, say, at 600 million perhaps, borders or no borders?

      I’m particularly curious about the water situation, specifically the receding glaciers in the Rockies and the somewhat reduced levels of the large aquifiers. Maybe there’s enough water. It’s just that, among others, your Austrian governor sounded a little concerned in a recent 60-Minutes interview.

    • I apologize once again for veering off the subject, but don’t get me started on water. Have a look at this: http://www.waterencyclopedia.com/Oc-Po/Ogallala-Aquifer.html

      Bottom line–this aquifier provides the water for the US Great Plains. At the current level of withdrawal it is estimated to run out in a matter of decades–some estimates are as low as 25 years. 94% of the water withdrawn goes for agriculture.

      Something has to be fixed before we ramp up the population much more.

    • I don’t think that water is “off-topic.” After all, among the reasons Mr. Schwarzenegger listed as to why the water supply in Kaahleefoahneeahh has become so problematic was that its population now stood at 68 million and not 38 million like in the 1960s. Except for folks like the governor himself, most of the increase is due to migration from south of the border.

      Although said border is porous, it still presents an obstacle to immigration. By what mechanism exactly the influx would slow down or cease altogether as opposed to go up dramatically if the border were removed is not quite clear to me. Perhaps the same number of Americans would migrate south as Mexicans and South Americans would migrate north, and hence the exchange would be even, but somehow I doubt it.

      The Southwest, it seems, is constantly on fire, which may be an indication that the entire region is gradually drying out, which, in turn, may have something to do with less snowmelt coming down from the Rockies.

      Maybe they can fix it. Drill for water perhaps. At least if a water rig explodes, nothing but millions of gallons of water would come gushing out. Too much water, of course, can be bad, too, as currently on display in Tennessee.

    • @Cyberquill

      Too much water, of course, can be bad, too, as currently on display in Tennessee.

      I have often contemplated that if we had created an interstate aqueduct system at the same time as we were creating an interstate highway system, these floods and droughts could have been controlled to a great degree.

      To create it now would be so expensive and so fraught with lawsuits and ecological battles that it is an impossibility.

  7. Andreas… Can’t really utter a word. Just read and look at both sides. And you and probably others know what some of us, down here, stand for. I thank you. I do.

  8. Andreas, I think this post, all the debate around it, and your diagram, to be great. I was unfortunately busy these last 2 days – didn’t even reply to my commentators at my blog – but I might come back.

  9. I’m almost appalled that you chose to call the Indian Institutes of Technology as the best university system in the world today. That is plain nonsense.

    There is enough literature out there to explain why. Only a few months ago, India’s new, reform-oriented education minister, Kapil Sibal, publicly pulled up IIT’s striking faculty for non-performance.

    However, entry to the IITs is the most competitive in the world. And that has more to do with India’s fixation with engineering and medicine, and a billion-plus population that has to make do with a general lack of quality education, which forces parents to dog-train their children into applying to the IITs. In many cases, not bothering with what the children want.

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