Nightcap

  1. The death of right-libertarianism Chris Dillow, Stumbling & Mumbling
  2. The danger of government-issued photo ID Pierre Lemieux, EconLog
  3. The Trump re-election campaign Tyler Cowen, Bloomberg
  4. My problem with Trump’s wall Don Boudreaux, Cafe Hayek

Merry Liberty Christmas!

Christmas, as I hope everybody (at least in the West) still knows is Jesus’ birthday. I don’t want to spend too much time here talking about how it is very unlikely that Jesus was born on December 25, and how this date was probably just chosen at some point in the late Ancient times/Early Medieval times to Christianize European pagans. The Bible never specifies when Jesus was born (although it does offer some hints), and so, some very devout Christians over history (Puritans, for example) thought that we should not even celebrate Christmas. The gospel according to John doesn’t even talk about Jesus’ birth. In it, Jesus simply appears as a grown man. The same thing happens in Mark’s gospel. Matthew and Luke give accounts of Jesus’ birth, with Luke being more detailed. So, ½ of our gospels don’t seem to be very interested in Jesus’ life before he was about 30 years old. Someone has said (and I think somewhat appropriately) that the gospels are accounts of Jesus passion (his death and resurrection) with long introductions.

But anyways! I don’t think that celebrating Christmas is bad, not at all! I believe it is a good occasion to remember Jesus, the founder of Western civilization. May we like it or not, the West is profoundly linked to Christianity. Christianism begin as little more than a small and persecuted Jewish sect, but eventually became the main religion in Europe (and northern Africa, and the Near East), and from there to the World. Some might say (and I think that sadly they might be right) that today Europe lives in a post-Christian era, but we should not forget that someday in the past to be European and to be Christian were basically synonyms. And I also believe that we, professing Christians or not, should be thankful to Christianity in a number of ways. I am very convinced that it was thanks to Christianity, especially after the Reformation, that we have many of the things that we, as liberty-lovers, are thankful for, such as science, capitalism and lots of individual liberty.

Of course, from the human perspective, the link between Christianism and West is merely accidental. I myself, as a Brazilian, am not sure if I classify as a Westerner. Maybe I am from the far West? It is very clear that for many decades now Christianism is moving to the global south: Latin America, Africa, Asia, and I hope not to be forgetting anyone. And I think that is just beautiful! I don’t believe that there is one essential Christian culture. Instead, I believe that culture is an essential human phenomenon and that Christianism can give a new birth to cultures, just as it does to individuals, bringing forward what they have best and leaving behind the bad stuff.

Sadly, the very places where Christianism is growing the most today are usually also the places where Christians suffer more persecution. Although we tend to connect the first few centuries of Christianism with martyrdom, with people being crucified, thrown to the beasts and the like, the fact is that the 20th century had more martyrs than any other century before. It is also sad for me that most people, including Christians and liberty-lovers, tend to ignore this. In the last few weeks, I heard of at least two churches being closed in China, with all members being taken to jail. I wish that people who care about freedom paid more attention to this. I also wish that people who care about Human Rights did the same. Some people are worried about gay couples not getting wedding cakes from Christian bakers, but they don’t seem to have the same concern about Chinese Christians being thrown in jail just because they are Christians.

Speaking of which, I want to be very honest and say that Marxism (or post-Marxism, or cultural Marxism) can easily become a religion. Marx is a prophet, The Capital is a holy book, the proletariat (or any oppressed minority, for the modern left) is both Messiah and holy people, a future communist utopia is Heaven. I believe that it was a Catholic apologist who said that “the problem with not believing in God is that we start to believe in any dumb thing – including in ourselves”. The problem with Marxism as a religion is the same problem I see with every other religion apart from Biblical Christianity: it is performance driven. It is about what you do. And as so, it can create a slippery slope in your heart. You become self-righteous and judgmental (in a bad way) of people outside your faith-group or even people inside your faith-group who you consider not holy enough. Of course, Christians are not exempt from this either, but I believe we have the right medicine for this.

As much as I believe that the New Left is one of the greatest problems in the West today and that several forms of totalitarianism are one of the main problems elsewhere, I don’t believe that libertarianism or conservatism are in themselves the solution. I became a libertarian (or a conservative-libertarian) because I am first a Christian. My first question was “what the Bible has to say about politics and economics”? I believe that somewhere in the libertarian camp we have the best answer for that. I believe the Bible teaches that very small and simple governments and market freedom are the answer. However, I would say that this is just partly the answer.

The way that I see it, the conflict between the left and the right is very much a conflict between Rousseau and Locke, or a conflict between two kinds of freedom. For Rousseau, you are only free when you are your true inner self. If necessary, the community can make an intervention to force you to become who you truly are. For Locke, you are free when you can make your own choices, regardless if they look good for others. As libertarians like to say, a crime without a victim is not a crime.

I believe this is also a basic conflict between modern western culture and more tradition culture – the conflict between collectivism and individualism. My answer as a Christian (and a libertarian) is that we should not force people to be Christians. That would, at best, produce external conformity – which is actually really bad. My understanding is that, as long as they are not predictably and willfully hurting others, people should be let free to do whatever they want. And I do mean whatever. On the other hand, I don’t think that this is good – or as good as it can be. Ironically, I believe that Rousseau is onto something important: you are only truly free when you are who you are really supposed to be.

One great irony or paradox in Christianism is that you are only truly free when you are a slave to God. Understanding 1st-century slavery helps to get the analogy better. God bought us for a price. We belong to him. However, God is not satisfied with having us as slaves. Instead, he adopts us as sons. That is the (I believe) famous parable of the prodigal son: a son abandons his father and loses all his money. He comes back hoping to become a slave in his father’s house. His father takes him back as a son. So, Jesus gives us a new identity as sons of God. And I do mean sons, and not sons and daughters or children. In the 1st century daughters had no inheritance, but in Christ, we all share of it. So that is our true identity if we walk after Christ. And that is when we are truly free.

I don’t want to force anybody to be Christian. I believe that one of the greatest mistakes in Christian history was exactly that: to force people to become Christian. As I said, religion can easily create a slippery slope in the heart, and Christianism is not necessarily an exception. But while other religions are about what we do, Christianism in its essence has at least the potential to be what has been done for us. And that is truly humbling. And I believe this has important political implications: we pray for all. We hope for the best. We trust in God. We respect others.

So Merry Christmas to all! I hope that this is a time for remembering the birthday boy, and what he did, especially on the cross. And that we can all work for a world freer, where people can become Christians – if they choose so.

Legal Immigration Into the United States: Introduction (Part 1 of 6)

This an essay about legal immigration. It includes a theoretical framework, essential facts, and subjective opinions. In this old-fashioned piece, there is no pretense of scholarly detachment. It’s a personal endeavor that I hope will be useful to others. I don’t have a hidden agenda but topical preferences I think I make clear. Footnote 1 describes my qualifications to discuss immigration. You might surmise that I have a more pro-immigration bias than most small-government conservatives but not than most libertarians (but who knows about them?). I deal with American immigration, specifically. I present rough figures only, trying to add some orders of magnitudes to the current complicated media narrative, and to establish distinctions that don’t always occur naturally. I don’t aim at precision. If mistakes of fact slip into my story, I hope readers will draw attention to them and thus, perhaps, start a conversation here. My few policy recommendations are all tentative but I hope they are logically linked both to orders of magnitudes and to conceptual distinctions.

I choose to address legal immigration specifically for two categories of reasons. First, there are reasonably good, trustworthy figures regarding legal immigration, while numbers for illegal immigration are largely estimated from data gathered for other purposes and often according to wobbly rules. Second, the relationship between legal immigration and illegal immigration is complicated enough to justify an essay all of its own. Here is a sample: Many illegal immigrants, especially many Mexicans, argue that there would be less illegal immigration into the US if there were more doors open through legal immigration. Yet, as I show below, to a considerable extent legal immigration facilitates illegal immigration and thus increases the numbers of illegal immigrants. So the numerical relationship between the two appears both negative and positive. In a co-authored article (referenced in Footnote 2) I examined the complex links between legal and illegal immigration in the special and numerically important case of Mexicans. Though that article dates back to 2009, it remains remarkably current in some respect. In the present essay I only refer tangentially to illegal immigration and only insofar as it serves my main object. Continue reading

A short note from the editor

I don’t even know what to write about anymore.

The Kavanaugh-SCOTUS debacle was so bad, and so predictable, that I thought it was worth avoiding altogether, even though it’s important. I thought about writing on why it’s important to understand “the other side” of a debate. In the US, as in democracies everywhere right now, political polarization has occurred. Nobody is listening, but nobody is paying attention to the important stuff, either. There’s no mention of checks and balances or rule of law, but plenty of ink has been spilled on “legitimacy,” as if the beliefs of the mob are somehow superior to minority rights and due process in a free and open society.

Don’t people realize that the Supreme Court, in fact the whole judicial branch of government, is supposed to be somewhat anti-democratic? Wasn’t that high school civics?

The election of Donald Trump has overwhelmed libertarians, I think. He’s too vulgar for us to properly counter. He’s a demagogue and he’s immoral. NOL‘s traffic has gone up over the past two years since Trump’s election victory, but the number of posts has gone down. Even I have switched from writing about political issues to simply sharing stuff that’s mostly non-political. Again, how do you counter something so vulgar and crass using the written word and your own humble logic? I understand why Leftists have taken to the streets. I understand why they use violence and intimidation to get their points across.

The root cause of the populist surge across the democratic world is hard to pinpoint. Perhaps it never will be properly pinpointed. Yet, I see two causes: the first is a simple lack of knowledge about what liberty means. Just mention the word “liberty” in your next conversation and you’ll see what I mean. It has become archaic or even eccentric. “Liberty.” Its meaning has become lost. And in the meantime, populist demagogues throughout the West have taken a dump all over the meaning of freedom. Demagogues now assault the liberties of minorities, of refugees, and of foreigners in the name of freedom.

How did we let this happen? How did libertarians let this come to pass? Complacency is the wrong answer here. Libertarians fell under the spell of economizing. Libertarians and libertarian organizations sought to become more rational, more efficient, and more eye-catching as the medium of mass communication has moved from television and print to digital and print. Something called “data” or “metrics” convinced libertarians worldwide to bend the knee. But the hallmark of liberty has always been informality and spontaneity. Institutional and professional organizations are a great complement to libertarian activism (whatever that might be), but once rationalization overpowered the informal nature of libertarian networks, populism prospered as libertarians, too worried about their careers in Washington, took the cowardly route. I am part of the cowardly crowd. I should have spoken up more often. I should have been more a fighter.

The second cause of the populist surge is globalization and the lack of formal institutions to accompany its spread across the globe. The spread of formal markets has decreased income inequality worldwide, but has increased that same inequality within countries that have been economically developed for centuries. If a poor country is trading with a rich country, and the poor country is obviously cheating, there is nothing citizens in the rich country can do to stop the cheating other than stop trading with the poor country. If the world had better formal institutions to confront stuff like this, the populists would have remained forever on the margins of their respective societies. The World Trade Organization was seen as “good enough” by those inside Washington and by those who should have known better.

A fuller, more robust vision of the free and open society has not yet been produced. There are those in libertarian circles who argue that charter cities or “seasteading” ventures are the proper future of humankind, the proper future of liberty. Yet running away from the world does not seem like a smart thing to do. It’s certainly cowardly, and we’ve had enough of that over the past three or four decades to last us a lifetime. A better, more up-to-date, argument for the free and open society needs to be built off of the works of liberty’s past defenders. Globalization has been good for the world’s poor, but it has sidelined the voices of the world’s middle classes (who work in the world’s rich countries). To fight populism, I am going to continue to figure out how to make globalization a little bit better for everybody, instead of just ignoring the complaints of the middle classes. I think expanding the Madisonian republic territorially is the best way to go about this. I may be wrong, but I’ll never know if I don’t at least take a crack at it.

Nightcap

  1. The conversations that cryptocurrency kills Sonya Mann, Jacobite
  2. How and why the 1st Amendment became a weapon for the right Jedediah Purdy, the Nation
  3. Are libertarians crazy? Pierre Lemieux, EconLog
  4. As Venezuelans starve, Maduro gives oil away to Cuba Jorge Carrasco, CapX

Nightcap

  1. Whatever Happened to Patient Confidentiality? Irfan Khawaja, Policy of Truth
  2. What Critics Don’t Understand About Gun Culture David French, the Atlantic
  3. Making Guns Obsolete Frances Woolley, Worthwhile Canadian Initiative
  4. Can Libertarianism Be A Governing Philosophy? Michael Munger, Law & Liberty

Underrated & overrated libertarian thinkers

Here is my take on Tyler Cowen’s views on libertarian thinkers who are either overrated or underrated in shaping the libertarian tradition. Please be aware that I think libertarianism and classical liberalism are two different strands of liberal thought, as argued in more detail in an earlier post here at NOL and in my latest book. Please also note that my judgement will be particularly informed by their views on international relations.

Overrated:

  1. Hans-Hermann Hoppe – completely esoteric ideas about international relations, especially his erroneous and ill-thought idea about private defence through private insurance companies.
  2. Deepak Lal – no complaints about his general work, but his praise for empires was deeply disturbing, even though he meant well. Liberalism and globalization do not need empires, no matter how civilized – in the Oakeshottian meaning – they are meant to be.
  3. Ron Paul – I admire Ron Paul in many ways, but his ideas for ‘a foreign Policy of freedom’ are not much better than Hoppe’s. ‘peace, commerce, and honest friendship’: nice Jeffersonian goals, bad underlying analysis, not least about human nature.

Underrated:

  1. Friedrich Hayek – a far more sophisticated thinker on international relations than he is ever given credit for.
  2. Adam Smith – nowadays erroneously equated with ‘trade leads to peace’ fairly tales. Yet any reader of the complete two volumes of the Wealth of Nations recognizes that the book is also a lot about war and foreign policy, as are his Lectures on Jurisprudence and even a bit in The Theory of Moral Sentiments. Together these make for a full and sophisticated position on international affairs.
  3. David Hume – basically the same as Smith.
  4. Robert Jackson – ok, I am taking liberties here. I do not think Jackson would consider himself a classical liberal or libertarian. But his writings on international relations are important and often have a classical liberal leaning, especially The Global Covenant.