Immigration and unicorn thinking

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There is a popular myth among some libertarians and many conservatives that restricting immigration is something that’s consistent with the ideals of small government. Immigration policy, they say, is about policing of the border and regulating foreigners, not about infringing on the property and individual rights of citizens. To the chagrin of some, I concede that this is a consistent belief for a libertarian to hold.

But it’s a belief based on “unicorn” policy, not reality. It’s akin to our friends on the left who believe in helping low-income people by raising the minimum wage. Consistent, but based on how they imagine it should work rather than on what both theory and experience suggest. The simple fact is that you can’t control immigration without controlling the citizens of a country. Read more

Bernier’s bad bet

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Maxime Bernier is taking a gamble. He believes that there is a large, disenfranchised voting bloc in Canada on which he can capitalise to form a new party that, he says, will focus on smaller, constitutional government that respects taxpayers and opposes economic favouritism—though he’s spent more time in the news for culture warring.

His gamble seems to be that the anti-immigration and anti-political correctness crowds to whom he’s been throwing bones will (a) make up a part, but not the basis, of his political coalition, and (b) be willing to make concessions on these issues to support a core mission of smaller, constitutionally restrained government.

Unfortunately for Bernier, if he’s sincere that this is his goal he’s made his gamble based on an out-of-date understanding of politics in Western countries. The political climate in which this was likely to succeed—the one in which Bernier has spent his political career—is changing.
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The wrong kind of anti-democratic

Ontario’s Progressive Conservative government has announced that it will cut the size of Toronto’s city council almost in half.

This odd decision (mid-election, it’s an expensive one) creates an opportunity to address an interesting quirk about Ontario’s right-of-centre party. Sometimes people will say something along the lines of, “LOL!! Progressive Conservative? Sounds like an oxymoron to me!”

A better understanding of early 20th-century politics, progressivism, and conservatism can show us why it’s not. It also helps us explore why the Ontario PCs might support smaller municipal councils and why doing so might be a mistake.  Read more

Diversity in social movements

The diversity of movements and organisations shapes them.

This might sound trite, but it also creates a barrier to more diverse movements. This 2011 Daily Kos article is one of my favourite things on the Internet. (I know. The headline. Persevere.) It’s a consultant’s story about trying to help feminist groups become more racially diverse.

This isn’t necessarily about racism or sexism or classism or anythingelseism. It’s more about a kind of Hayekian concept of privilege. We don’t know what’s in other peoples’ heads, so we miss stuff when we don’t interact with or listen to each other.

Treating the Daily Kos article as a case study gives some insight into the barriers to diversity and shows us why diversifying can lead to pushback. Read more

Peoplesplaining Is No Joking Matter

Earlier this week, Canada’s Prime Minister interrupted a woman to correct her after she used the word ‘mankind’. Trudeau asked that she instead use the word ‘peoplekind’ in order to be more inclusive. This exchange garnered international criticism, which led the Prime Minister to respond by saying the whole thing was just a “dumb joke”.

Apart from the fact that the Prime Minister used a word that doesn’t exist, à la Sarah Palin’s ‘refudiate’, he then claims it was a joke. This, to me, is much worse than if he had simply apologized.

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Don’t cheer for gridlock

In The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerabilities of Democracies: A Response to Tocqueville’s Challenge, Vincent Ostrom argues that a democratic society must be a self-governing society. Not just one that’s designed the right way.

By explaining why people need to be able to use persuasion and work together to solve their problems to keep democracy healthy, Ostrom gives us a useful way to think about a common concern: gridlock. Libertarians often cheer for gridlock. We shouldn’t. And not just because it’s tone deaf.  Read more

Sweet talk and self-governance

We haven’t heard as much lately about panic over falling faith in democracy, but questions about the proper scope of democracy and what we mean by “democracy” are still relevant. Is democracy popping a ballot in a box, or does it include our conversations and what we do as communities?

Vincent Ostrom asks this question in The Meaning of Democracy and the Vulnerabilities of Democracies: A Response to Tocqueville’s Challenge, and urges us to recognise a seldom-discussed danger to democracy. We often hear that we need to do more than just vote—we need to vote well. But, says Ostrom, we also need to be able to persuade each other—to use what Deirdre McCloskey calls “sweet talk“. Sweet talk is how we get people to act together when we can’t force them to. But we have to persuade well, the right way—building buy-in and consensus. The wrong kind of persuasion might be as dangerous as the wrong kind of voting. “Rhetoric pursued as an art of manipulation can be a trap contributing to the vulnerability of democratic societies.” (xiii)

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Ursula K. Le Guin, An Appreciation

Ursula K. Le Guin. Meet-the-author Q&A session; Bookworks bookstore, Albuquerque, NM, USA; July 2004. Photo taken by Hajor, 15.Jul.2004. Released under cc.by.sa and/or GFDL.Ursula K. Le Guin did not care for capitalism.

What have I, a pro-market libertarian, to do with Ursula K. Le Guin, and what would move me to write an appreciation of her work?

Le Guin, who died last week at the age of 88, was an American novelist (her preferred designation) who mostly wrote science fiction and fantasy but also wrote poetry, “young persons’ fiction” and essays. Her novels won her five Locus, four Nebula, two Hugo, and one World Fantasy Award. Unsurprisingly she was also granted a number of lifetime achievement awards, all of them richly deserved. She was a feminist and an environmentalist, whose fiction pioneered themes of gender equality.

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Libertarianism: the Jaworski definition

Several years ago, Peter Jaworski sketched out a definition of libertarianism that I’ve since come to think of as the only workable definition. I’m reposting it from Facebook.

The definition was fleshed out in response to (yet another) debate—this time involving Stephan Kinsella, but replayed many times between many people—about who “counts” as a libertarian.

The old accusation was that someone who doesn’t base their morality on the non-aggression principle can’t be a true or at least not truly committed libertarian. This accusation is bound to rile up some anarchist consequentialist, but more importantly, purges from libertarianism figures as important as Hayek, Mises, and Friedman. Today there are others who would like to disqualify from libertarianism those who worry about such distasteful goals as pursuing economic nationalism or those with more mainstream views on border controls and immigration. I wouldn’t say that these people are part of the same political project as I am, but (alas) I don’t think their underlying reasons for smaller government disqualify them from the label.

This is the strength of Jaworski’s definition: it moves libertarianism away from purity tests and purges and instead allows for a sort of pluralism within libertarianism and accommodates the many different and even disparate missions that libertarians pursue. Read more