Group Blogs

The Ethics of Immigration Symposium: Movement within and between states

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-05-27 19:38

Joseph Carens has written a brilliant and stimulating book. I can’t remember the last time I filled a book with so many marginal jottings, either because he had made a striking point that I wanted a reminder of, or because what he said was so thought-provoking, or, often, both.

I agree with the vast majority of Professor Carens’s conclusions. It would make a boring symposium contribution to just list points of agreement, so I’m going to spend a bit of time here on a few points where I don’t agree. Now I’m sure you’ve heard a philosopher give an introduction like that once or twice before, and it can sound rather trite. So I want to start with a couple more positive things.

The fact that the book is so rich, that there are things worth talking about on basically every page, means that it would be a joy to teach. I don’t think there are many philosophy departments around that currently have on the curriculum a course on the ethics of immigration. Here’s some free advice to my fellow philosophers: Add such a course, and have Professor Carens’s book be a central text in it. You’ll get a topic, and a text, that are interesting to people who normally wouldn’t take philosophy classes. You’ll get more topics for fruitful discussion than you can easily handle. And, especially in a university with any kind of diversity, you’ll get the chance for you, and the students, to learn from how the lived experiences of the different members of the class interact with the theoretical issues at hand. I know many universities have been adding, with great success, courses on the ethics of food. A course on the ethics of immigration could have a similar kind of success.

Carens’s book encourages us, among other things, to take two new perspectives on issues about immigration. One is that of the migrants themselves, who have played a surprisingly small role in much academic discussion. A lot of the focus has been on the states constructing the borders, and the legitimacy of their doing so. Carens’s thought experiments often cast the reader as the central protagonist, in many cases the would-be migrant. (E.g., “Imagine you want to move from New York to Los Angeles.”) I think the use of second person examples in philosophy is excessive, and often dangerous. But I think it works here, because part of the point is to see things through the would-be migrant’s eyes. Someone who wants to move, say, across Lake Erie from Ontario to Pennsylvania faces a system of legal impediments, backstopped by the coercive force of the greatest power the world has seen. And that system is not obliged, either legally or according to folk morality, to provide much justification for directing that force at them, should it decide that the impediments will become insurmountable. Indeed,the fact that the person has not provided a positive reason to move that the system finds acceptable is taken to be a sufficient reason to use force against you. This is not what we usually find acceptable in a non-oppressive regime. The state has to justify why it should use force against me; I don’t have to justify why it shouldn’t use force against me. Maybe when I’m an immigrant all of that is right and good. But even so, I think it is right for us to be occasionally shocked by it, and be reminded that it is a state of affairs that stands in need of a very strong justification.

The second change of perspective involves thinking simultaneously about movement within states and between states. Folk morality distinguishes sharply between the two. Compare how you would react if you found out the following facts about three states, A, B and C, that you had previously never heard of.

  • A has restrictions on travelling between its two largest cities. To travel between the two requires an internal transit visa.
  • B and C sharply restrict movement between each other. To move between one and the other requires official approval well in advance from the country one is headed to. This approval is both costly to obtain, and often denied for what seem like trivial administrative reasons.

I think that most people, especially if the two cases are not presented side-by-side, would think that the facts provide more evidence that A is repressive than that B or C are. Internal movement visas are things that we associate with repressive regimes. But the facts about B and C wouldn’t excite anything like the same reaction. Indeed, they are consistent with B and C satisfying most of the standards that folk morality requires for being a free country.

I haven’t done a careful study to check whether what I am saying about folk morality is true. (Here is a place where careful experimental philosophy may be useful!) But I suspect that it is; that most people living in liberal democracies find the idea of internal movement visas repulsive, but think it is perfectly acceptable to have the kind of sharp restrictions on moving into a country that we see in B and C. And it is worth thinking hard about what we can learn both from the fact that liberal democracies allow free internal movement and that we largely think it is a requirement of freedom that they do so. (Though how much we really think this will be an issue we’ll return to presently.)

The fact that there is free movement within liberal democracies undermines some of the more outlandish predictions of the opponents of open borders. Carens quotes Michael Walzer saying that we need closed borders to preserve “communities of character”. But Vermont has open borders (on three sides at least) and is (or at least contains) as good a community of character as one might aim for in designing policy. By the same token, reflection on currently existing polities without borders should tamper our enthusiasm for the benefits that open borders would bring. There aren’t any closed borders, in the sense Carens is interested in, between Trenton, NJ and Princeton, NJ. There are even trains that run between the two dozens of times a day. And yet the wealth of one doesn’t seem to have done much to benefit the residents of the other. This hasn’t happened by chance, and it is worth worrying that the mechanisms involved would be seen more in a world of open borders.

It is tempting to think of borders between states as much more important than borders within states because of the greater inequalities between rather than within states. Indeed, some of Carens’s qualifications to his conclusions seem to acknowledge this temptation. For instance, he writes: “Our deepest moral principles require a commitment to open borders (with modest qualifications) in a world where inequality between states is much reduced.” (288, emphasis added). But I’m not sure that is a relevant concern given the world we actually live in. Already, inequality within states is almost as significant as inequality between states.1 And if Piketty is right, the trend is that inequality within states is rising, perhaps substantially, while all the evidence suggests that inequality between states is falling.

And this brings us back to the worry that folk morality, distinguishing sharply as it does between inter- and intra-state migration, is incoherent. Something like this plays a key role in one of Carens’s arguments for open borders. I think he’s onto something, but the argument doesn’t prove as much as he takes it to. For a first pass at the argument, return to my story about A, B and C above. And assume now that A is a newly formed loose federation of two states, B and C, each of which retains substantial sovereignty. Does this change of status constitute a new form of repression, or not? Folk morality, taken literally, would seem to suggest the new state is more repressive than its predecessors, but this is hardly plausible. More generally, advocates of free movement within states, and strong borders around states, have tricky challenges in determining what, in the relevant sense, is a state.2

Here’s how Carens tries to leverage this tension in orthodox theory into an argument for open borders.

  1. “Freedom of movement within a state is widely recognised as a human right.” (238)
  2. There is a close analogy between freedom of movement within a state, and freedom of movement between states.
  3. So, freedom of movement between states should be recognised as a human right.

I’m not entirely sure I’ve got the best quote to represent Premise 1 in the intended argument. That’s because I’m not sure whether the analogy is meant to start with a claim about folk morality, or a claim about our current practice, or a claim about institutional commitment, or something else. This unclarity isn’t really a weakness of the argument, though, because it suggests there are a number of distinct arguments by analogy one could pursue in defence of one or other kind of open borders conclusion. And I think Premise 2, properly understood, is true.

My worry is that premise 1 is not true. I’m going to offer a defence of what Carens calls the view that free movement within a state is a ‘membership-specific’ right, rather than a human right. At least, according to folk morality, current practice, and the principles embodied in our existing institutions, it is a membership-specific right. That is, the key intuition is that members of a state should be free to move freely within it, up to resettling in different parts of the state, but that range of freedoms need not extend to non-members. When I say that is the intuition, I don’t mean I agree with it, since I’m an open borders believer. But I do fear it is the intuition most people in the debate have. I fear this because of though experiments like these two. (Both are fictional in their details, though Example Two is I think close to something Australia did recently.)

Example One

The US government, in an attempt to boost tourism to Hawai’i, drops the requirement of having an ESTA for people only coming to Hawai’i. So Shirou, wanting a holiday from his home outside Tokyo, gets on a plane with no more documentation than his passport, and flies to Honolulu. While he’s there, he meets someone who tells him some great things about San Francisco. He would like to go, but he needs ESTA authorisation to go. And he can’t apply for that in Hawai’i, nor can he afford to fly back to Tokyo, then on again to San Francisco. So he simply returns home at the end of his holiday.

Example Two

The Australian government is desperate to get more doctors into rural areas. So it sets up a class of visa for doctors who will work in a rural area for three years. Arya applies for such a visa, is accepted, and moves from Delhi to Broken Hill. While she is there, she is free to visit Melbourne for a weekend, but she isn’t free to move to Melbourne, since there is no practical way she can work in Broken Hill and live in Melbourne. And there is no prospect of her getting a visa that would let her live in Melbourne before the three years are up.

Now if premise 1 of Carens’s argument is right, each of these examples should strike us as grave injustices, either violations of Shirou and Arya’s fundamental human rights, or violations of a good international law. But I don’t think they strike us that way. In both cases they might be instances of bad public policy. Example one may even be a violation of the U.S. Constitution. But I don’t think they strike us as things that are, or should be, violations of human rights treaties.

And that’s a problem because it suggests that fundamentally, we are committed to free internal movement as a membership-specific right, not a general human right. Shirou isn’t a member of the United States, so he isn’t entitled to move freely around it. And Arya doesn’t become a member of Australia until her three years have passed, so she can be restricted in where in Australia she lives. And if that’s right, the argument by analogy doesn’t go through.

It might be objected that Arya, at least, is not really restricted in her movements. She can head to Melbourne for a decent cup of coffee any time she wants. But she can’t move there should she need good coffee every morning, not just on occasional weekends. If freedom of internal movement means the kind of freedom Arya enjoys in her first three years in Broken Hill, the analogy Carens uses doesn’t support open borders. It suggests, at most, that everyone in the world should be free to visit Melbourne on holiday, but the government is allowed to put tight restrictions on which non-Australians can live there. And that isn’t the conclusion open borders advocates should want.

So I don’t think the argument by analogy is dialectically effective. It isn’t one that should make closed borders advocates think that they are tacitly committed to open borders in virtue of their prior commitment to free movement internally.

If that’s right, why do I believe in open borders? I don’t have a well worked out theory here, but here’s the kind of approach I favour. (And I should note that my thinking here has been influenced by several of the other things Carens says.) I think there is a very small class of cases in which a state is entitled to use force against an individual. And in every one of those cases, the state is obliged to explain its use of force in a way that could at least make sense to the target of the force. I don’t think the goals that people hope to achieve by closed borders are sufficient to fall into one of those cases. (That’s in no small part because I think Carens’s objections in Chapter 12 to the attempts to articulate such goals are really compelling.) At the very least, the goals that would justify the use of force have not been clearly articulated. And hence they haven’t been clearly articulated to the targets of the force. So the use of force is unjust. But borders without the use of force to police them just are open borders. I’m not in principle opposed to positive arguments in favour of open borders, of the kind Carens attempts in Chapter 11. But I think there is a simple negative argument in favour of open borders, namely that closed borders require state-sanctioned violence, and state-sanctioned violence requires very strong justification, and that justification has not been provided.

I want to end with a quibble, or perhaps a pet peeve. I think Professor Carens often understates his conclusion. Here is how he sometimes puts it.

The ideal of justice i have identified has two components: a right to freedom of movement across borders and relatively little inequality between states. (278)

But as has been often pointed out, we really shouldn’t care much about the ideal. (Ralph Wedgwood makes this point in a recent blog post.) For one thing, ethicists set themselves too easy, too useless a task if all they do is talk about what heaven will be like. My vision of heaven certainly doesn’t contain guards with guns policing the borders of its different parts, and I suspect yours doesn’t either, but little of practical importance follows from that. What really matters is what would make things better, and what we should aim at doing. But properties of the ideal are not a good guide to this. It certainly doesn’t follow logically from the fact that something is true in the ideal that we should aim to make it true, or be happy that it is actually true. The ideal test-taker makes an even number of mistakes, but little follows from that for the non-ideal. In some circumstances one might think that knowing something is true in the ideal is at least inductive evidence we should aim for it. But that needs to be shown, and it often won’t be true.

This is a quibble because I think Carens’s arguments aren’t really just about the ideal. They are arguments, often strong arguments, that removing barriers to free movement of humans is a good thing, and something we should be aiming for. In the ideal there would be few, or perhaps no, such barriers. But even in the here and now it would be better if there were fewer. That’s the big claim open borders advocates believe, and one we should make clearly.

  1. Here’s a quick bit of data on this. Take the PPP adjusted GDP per capita of the world’s 187 countries, according to the World Bank. Calculate the Gini coefficient for a society that had 187 individuals in it, each assigned an income equal to this GDP per capita of one country. That turns out to be a little under 0.53. Now compare this to some real-world Gini coefficients. Most western democracies have a Gini coefficient that is higher than 0.53 before taxes and transfers, though a fair bit lower afterwards. Taxes and transfers matter, so there is a difference here between intra- and inter- state inequality, but it is less than you might have thought. 

  2. A personal anecdote to bring out the real-world complications. I recently caught a ferry from Macau to Hong Kong. At the end I spent an hour standing in an immigration queue to come into Hong Kong. And the paperwork I used wouldn’t have been sufficient to enter mainland China. Was this an example of unjust restrictions on internal movement, or legitimate policing of state borders? 

Categories: Group Blogs

Political Economy is Political

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-05-27 09:07

The best explanation of the current Piketty-Financial Times brouhaha was written by Mike Konczal a few weeks before it actually happened.

As Foucault argued, the ability of social science to know something is the ability to anthropologize it, a power to define it. As such, it becomes a problem to be solved, a question needing an answer, something to be put on a grid of intelligibility, and a domain of expertise that exerts power over what it studies. With Piketty’s Capital, this process is now being extended to the rich and the elite. Understanding how the elite become what they are, and how their wealth perpetuates itself, is now a hot topic of scientific inquiry.

Many have tried to figure out why the rich are freaking out these days. Their wealth was saved from the financial panic, they are having a very excellent recovery, and they are poised to reap even greater gains going forward. Perhaps they are noticing that the dominant narratives about their role in society—avatars of success, job creators for the common good, innovators for social betterment, problem-solving philanthropists—are being replaced with a social science narrative in which they are a problem to be studied. They are still in control, but they are right to be worried.

Political economy is political – a fact which many of its most prominent practitioners have ignored, or actively sought to bury. Although it appears technical, it starts from a set of political premisses. It radically emphasizes questions of (purported) economic efficiency, and discounts or actively deprecates questions of who-gets-what, even though theories that emphasize distribution have microfoundations that are quite as solid as the dominant mode of economic thinking. Furthermore, the dominance of these economic theories has had profound political consequences, as scholars as different as Jack Knight and Jim Johnson, Mark Blyth and Steve Teles have documented in various ways.

The reason that Piketty’s book has gotten such a reaction – both from its advocates and its critics – is because it threatens to upset the current equilibrium in economic thinking. As Mike says, it threatens to open up new questions – questions which are profoundly and politically uncomfortable for dominant approaches in economic thinking. The result is that it isn’t only the rich that are freaking out. I would guess that one can explain the immediate reaction of 85% of economists and public writers to the book by looking to their priors on this question – whether they like to emphasize efficiency questions over distributional concerns, or vice versa (another 10% can be explained by whether the writer in question thinks that he/she and his/her mates do or don’t get sufficient citations and respect). People who might have found the book interesting had it been an academic exercise, and perhaps even agreed with large parts of it, are freaking out because they worry that it has serious implications for political debate. If people start debating whether capitalism is inherently rigged, so that those with a lot of capital will naturally do better than those who won’t, … well who knows where they might go next.

To be clear – this doesn’t invalidate criticisms of Piketty’s book, any more than it means that his arguments are necessarily correct. Even if the actual reason why people are casting around for Devastating Critiques is because they don’t like the book’s political implications, they may actually find good criticisms, and uncover real mistakes. Motivated reasoning, if properly harnessed, can be epistemologically very valuable. That methodological critics of Piketty (and people insistently suggesting that there’s nothing very interesting to be learned from studying the distribution of wealth) nearly all clump together in one ideological camp, and people defending the methodology clump together in another, doesn’t mean that the dispute between the two isn’t useful. Argument about politically divisive topics is only disinterested in rare and isolated instances – yet it still can have great benefits. What it does mean is that the dispute, in the end, is a directly political one – over what constitutes the proper subject matter of economics and the other social sciences. Plausibly, it’s the people who are least willing to acknowledge the political aspects of the debate who are most completely captured by them. Practical economists, who believe themselves to be quite exempt from any political influences, are usually slaves of some defunct political philosopher.

Categories: Group Blogs

The Ethics of Immigration Symposium: The Theory of Social Membership

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-05-27 05:04

Let me begin by saying that The Ethics of Immigration is a wonderful book and that it is a terrific pleasure to participate in this celebration of its publication.  This is exemplary political theory: it addresses issues of fundamental importance to democratic societies and does so through clearly reasoned and provocative challenges to widely held positions.  Partly because of Carens’s unusual ability to sort through complex terrain in ordinary language, the book is a fantastic example of the way that political theory can clarify and contribute to democratic debate.


Although Carens’s work is best known for its defense of open borders, I have discussed those arguments at length elsewhere and, so, will use this space to raise some questions about the first part of the book.  There, Carens works under the assumption that the state has the right to restrict immigration and asks about the appropriate treatment of newborn children, permanent residents, temporary workers, and undocumented migrants.

While Carens has written on these topics in other places, one of the great features of the book is that it allows one to appreciate the way in which those discussions are linked by a simple and intuitively attractive theory of social membership.  Carens argues that:
What matters most morally with respect to a person’s legal status and legal rights in a democratic political community is not ancestry or birthplace or culture or identity or values or actions or even the choices that individuals and political communities make but simply the social membership that comes from residence over time…. [Most people] develop deep and rich networks of relationships in the place where they live, and this normal pattern of human life is what makes sense of the idea of social membership. (160)
Over time, people develop relationships in a community, they formulate aims and plans that are shaped by their place within it, and they come to identify as members.  Although it is one’s social connections that matter morally, the passage of time is a useful legal proxy because it prevents political officials from having to establish, on a case-by-case basis, the extent to which an individual has developed connections to a particular community.  Thus, Carens’s claim is that over time people come to have a fundamental interest in being legally recognized as members of the community in which they live.


There are many questions to be asked about this theory.  Briefly consider two.

First, what should we think about individuals who neither form, nor wish to form, social connections?  Perhaps an individual moves to a cabin in very rural Montana with the specific intention of avoiding social connections and relationships.  According to Carens, such an individual is nevertheless entitled to citizenship.
The recluse who is the descendent of several generations of citizens is still a member of society, not because of her ancestry but because of where she lives.  The immigrant recluse has the same claims to social membership.  (168)
But, since the recluse does not have the kinds of social connections that are supposed to justify claims of citizenship, this remark seems to suggest that it is not the “rich networks of relationships” that justifies granting individuals citizenship.  What, then, is it?  And if we are willing to depart from the theory of social membership in this case, how can we be confident that it is correctly guiding us in other instances?

Second, we should ask how the theory applies in other contexts.  For example, I have taught at New York University for some 5 years now.  I have forged relationships, acted as a member of the community, built expectations around the assumption that I will continue to be an NYU faculty member, and so forth.  Still, although some might think it sad or unfortunate if NYU dismissed me, few would think that it loses the right do so once I forge sufficient social connections.

Similarly, I doubt whether length of membership allows one to resist being tossed out of one’s religious congregation or country club (regardless of the importance of the relationships built there).  Doesthe simple fact of social connection confer a right of membership on individuals in any context other than the state?  Should we be concerned about a theory that would seem strange or out of place in other contexts?

These questions suggest that:

  1. Social connections are not always necessary to establish membership; and

  1. Social connections are not always sufficient to establish membership.

If this is correct, we cannot just assume that difficult cases can be unproblematically addressed by applying the maxim that “social membership matters morally” (158).  It would therefore be tremendously useful to have a clearer account of how, when, and why social membership is morally important. So, despite its strong intuitive appeal, there are many further questions about Carens’s theory of social membership (regarding its basis, limits, and extension).


Having now raised some initial questions about Carens’s theory of social membership, I would like to consider his application of this theory to issues concerning the appropriate treatment of irregular (e.g. illegal) immigrants.

Given what we have said, it should not be surprising that Carens’s view is that:
The moral right of states to apprehend and deport irregular migrants erodes with the passage of time.  As irregular migrants become more and more settled, their membership in society grows in moral importance, and the fact that they have settled without authorization becomes correspondingly less relevant…. The implication of this analysis is that states … should establish an individual right for migrants to transform their status from irregular to legal after a fixed period of time of residence, such as five to seven years.  (150-151)
So unlike those who think of membership as a two way street (requiring the consent of the potential immigrant and the political community), Carens argues that people who enter a country illegally nevertheless become members of that society after sufficient time has passed.

Carens argues for this position, in part, by presenting two examples:

  1. Marguerite Grimmond was born in the United States, but moved to Scotland with her mother while very young.  She does not leave Scotland until going to Australia on a family vacation at the age of 80.  However, she never legally established the right to be in the United Kingdom and, upon her return, it refuses to grant her reentry.

  1. After having difficulty finding work in his home country of Mexico, Miguel Sanchez illegally enters the United States.  After a couple years, he marries a US citizen with whom he then has a child (now six years old).  U.S. law gives Sanchez no feasible path towards legalization and, as a result, his family lives in constant fear that a routine traffic stop or similar encounter with law enforcement could lead to his deportation.

Our intuitive unwillingness to accept deportation in these cases carries a lot of argumentative weight for Carens.

Unfortunately, the examples are not ideal because one can accept the view that immigrants in these particular circumstances ought not to be deported without thinking that irregular immigrants come, as a matter of course, to have a right to remain after being in the territory for a number of years.  For example, one might think that although illegal immigrants do not automatically become entitled to stay in their new country after a period of time, it would be wrong to deport individuals whose illegal immigration was not their responsibility (as in Grimmond’s case) or ones whose immediate family members are citizens (as in Sanchez’s case).  So, it is possible to agree with Carens about the specific examples without accepting his broader theory of social membership.  As rhetorically powerful as the examples certainly are, they do not uniquely support Carens’s position.

The other main consideration that Carens gives for his position on irregular migration is that it follows from his broader theory of social membership: the longer one stays, the stronger is one’s claim to remain.  However, as I noted at the outset, it’s at least somewhat unclear how the theory should apply in different contexts.

We should ask, for example, whether the community’s failure to approve one’s initial entry makes a difference to the social membership that one allegedly gains with the passage of time.  It is at least worth noticing that in many ordinary contexts this would seem to matter quite a lot.

Imagine that a student who cannot afford to attend NYU hacks into the university’s computer system and generates a student account.  Over the next couple of years, he is otherwise a model student at the university.  He does well in his coursework and avoids any further violation of university rules.  He also proves to be quite active socially, becoming involved in a number of student clubs and forming a wide range of important relationships with other students and faculty members.  When the university discovers the initial violation, would anybody think that it has lost the rightto expel the student from the university?  Would the university have more of a right to expel the student if he had been less active in developing social connections in the community?

My own view is that the initial violation gives the university the right to expel the student, should it wish to do so.   This, again, at least suggests that social membership may not be sufficient to establish a claim to legal membership.

I emphasize that the issue here is the university’s right to expel the student.  If the student made impressive contributions to the university community during his time there, the university might well decide to allow him to graduate upon paying the tuition owed or even to waive such payments.  Doing so would involve the university electing not to exercise a right that it possesses; this, of course, is importantly different from denying that the university holds such a right.

Similarly, I would personally endorse a policy of regularizing illegal immigrants similar to that advocated by Carens.  In my view, regularizing illegal immigrants who have been in the country for a long period of time without violating important laws would be a humane and decent policy.  It would also reflect the recognition that those of us in receiving countries cannot reasonably claim to deserve the wealth that surrounds us.  This is the kind of policy that I would like for the country claiming to act in my name to endorse.  But, one can disapprove of current policy towards illegal immigrants without denying that states have the right to make it.

Carens needs an argument for the claim that the state lacks this right, but (1) the examples that he calls on to argue for such a position are insufficient because they cannot distinguish between his position and those that would give different types of reasons for resisting the deportation of Grimmond and Sanchez, and (2) more argument is needed to show that the theory of social membership unproblematically travels across cases that are otherwise importantly different (such as when entry is not permitted by the community).  So, however attractive is the policy that Carens recommends, I doubt whether he has given us sufficient reason to think that it uniquely (or best) fits with broader democratic commitments.


Let me briefly discuss two ways in which Carens might respond to this line of argument.

First, he argues that our commitment to statutes of limitations shows that the right to punish fades with time:
It is not right to make people live indefinitely with a threat of serious legal consequences hanging over their heads for some long-past action, except for the most serious sorts of offenses.  Keeping the threat in place for a long period of time does not enhance deterrence and causes great harm to the individual – more than is warranted by the original offense.  (154)
Unfortunately, reference to the statute of limitations is more complicated than this suggests.

For instance, if the violation is a continuing one, the statute of limitations does not typically begin its countdown until the end of the series of violations.  Likewise, on at least some views, the statute of limitations does not begin its countdown until a reasonable person would have discovered the infringement.  So, for example, the fact that Bernie Madoff allegedly began committing fraud in the mid-1980’s did not prevent him from being prosecuted three decades later.

Likewise, the standard view is surely that the presence of the individual is a continuing violation of the political community’s right of self-determination and an illicit claiming of entitlement to the proceeds of a system of social cooperation to which the individual has no rightful claim.  Carens seems to be assuming that the initial entry to the country, as opposed to continuing residence there, is the illegal act that requires forgiveness.  But, if we are working from the assumption that the state has the right to restrict immigration, it is not obvious why we should accept such a position.

Thus, as it stands, it is perfectly reasonable for someone to respond by saying that their endorsement of the statute of limitations commits them to the view that we should not hunt people down after they return to their home country and attempt to punish them for their previous illegal residence.  It need not, as far as I can see, commit them to ignoring ongoing legal violations, even if they happened to begin a long time ago.  In any case, for the argument to be dispositive, we would need a more extended defense of the reasons for accepting a statute of limitations and an exploration of how it applies to the case at hand.

Second, Carens could respond by insisting that the theory of social membership is only applicable in the context of political relationships.  If this were true, it would suggest that my example of an “irregular” NYU student would be beside the point.  Although the distinctive nature of political relationships makes this is a tempting response, I think it is at least somewhat worrisome.  Most importantly, the reason that Carens gives for thinking that length of time matters – namely, that with the passage of time one forms relationships that one has an important interest in maintaining – is not naturally confined to the political context.

In the time that our irregular student spends at NYU, he forms important relationships that he has a strong interest in maintaining and that cannot be adequately pursued in the absence of membership in the university community.  Because the interests involved seem to extend to other kinds of cases, claiming that the theory only applies in the context of the state seems ad hoc and unjustified.  I think that these concerns suggest that there would be something valuable to be gained from a more detailed working out of the justification for the theory of social membership that underpins the book.

However, these (mildly) critical comments should not for a moment distract from the excellence and importance of The Ethics of Immigration.  This is a fantastic book: challenging, provocative, and clearly argued.  It should generate lots of welcome reflection, debate, and discussion about the obligations of democracies in the construction of immigration policy.  Moreover, it should establish the importance of questions of migration to broader debates in political theory about justice, democracy, and citizenship.  For helping to clarify issues of pressing public concern and for providing us with a model of what political theory can and should be, we are all in Carens’s debt.

Ryan Pevnick teaches political theory at New York University and is the author of Immigration and the Constraints of Justice (Cambridge, 2011).


Categories: Group Blogs

Why the Liberal Arts (Writing & Speaking) Matter

The Blogora - Mon, 2014-05-26 22:04

Why the liberal arts matter
By Fareed Zakaria
...[When] I got to America for college, I quickly saw the immense power of a liberal education.For me, the most important use of it is that it teaches you how to write. In my first year in college, I took an English composition course. My teacher, an elderly Englishman with a sharp wit and an even sharper red pencil, was tough.

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Categories: Group Blogs

When Intellectuals Go to War (updated)

Crooked Timber - Mon, 2014-05-26 19:26

On the recommendation of my colleague Shang Ha, I’ve been reading Alex Ross’ The Rest Is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century. There I came across this letter from Arnold Schoenberg to Alma Mahler, dated August 28, 1914. Ross only quotes a snippet, but here’s a lengthier excerpt:

Meanwhile, you have certainly already heard of the glorious victory of the Germans against France, England, and Belgium. It is among the most wonderful things that have happened. But it does not surprise me: it is not any different from the war of the Greeks against the Persians….My friends know it, I have often said to them, I never had any use for all foreign music. It always seemed to me stale, empty, disgusting, cloying, false, and awkward. Without exception. Now I know who the French, English, Russians, Belgians, Americans, and Serbians are: barbarians! The music said that to me long ago.[...] But now comes the reckoning. Now we shall send these mediocre purveyors of kitsch back into slavery.

Schoenberg was hardly the only artist to support his team during the First World War. But what strikes me in his stance here is something you often see when intellectuals go to war: their tendency to interpret the war in the most parochial terms imaginable, that is, as an expression of their own causes and concerns, no matter how alien those might be from the state waging the war. Not only did Schoenberg see German war aims as the defense of German/Viennese culture (again, he was not alone in this), but he saw it more specifically, and improbably, as an extension of his own battle against retrograde tendencies in modern music. As if the Kaiser had read Harmonielehre and decided to march into Belgium on behalf of atonality.

Schoenberg’s letter reminds me of a wonderful moment in the run-up to the Iraq War. Charlie Rose had Michael Ignatieff and Jonathan Schell on to debate the war (I can’t find the video but apparently you can buy it on Amazon). Ignatieff was being especially nasty, mocking Schell for saying something like “the peoples of the earth” had said no to the war. Which, given the international character of the protests of February 15, 2003, wasn’t wide of the mark. But then Schell gave it right back to Ignatieff. After Ignatieff did his thing of describing the war as the second coming of Isaiah Berlin, Schell gently reminded him that, however much he might wish it were otherwise, he wasn’t in fact the commander-in-chief of the country that would be fighting the war. Whatever aims the United States would ultimately pursue in waging war on Iraq, they would have little to do with the concerns of Michael Ignatieff.

A state goes to war for its reasons. It takes an especially potent form of imaginative power to assume that the academic question that happens to be on your mind at the moment is somehow shared by the men and women leading that state. Ordinary citizens, of course, are hardly immune to seeing themselves in that war and its exploits. But when it comes to the narcissism of war, as the example of Christopher Hitchens reminds us, no one has quite the self-deluding capacity of the intellectual.

Happy Memorial Day.

Update (May 27)

Taghi Amirani, a producer/director in London, just sent me notice of a documentary his production company has made, “We Are Many,” about the February 15, 2003 international protests and their long-term repercussions. Looks great.

Categories: Group Blogs

Book Symposium on Joseph Carens’s The Ethics of Immigration

Crooked Timber - Mon, 2014-05-26 10:05

This is the first contribution in a Crooked Timber symposium on Joseph Carens’s The Ethics of Immigration (Oxford, 2013). Over the next week there will be a number of further contributions by guests and Crooked Timber bloggers, followed at some near but later time by a response to critics from Joseph Carens himself.

Some worries about Carens’s democratic consensus

Joseph Carens started the contemporary discussion of immigration and justice back in 1987 with his essay “Aliens and Citizens: the Case for Open Borders” (Review of Politics 49:2) and has pursued the topic doggedly since then in a series of books and papers. But we’ve had to wait until now for the definitive statement of his views. The Ethics of Immigration is a terrific book in various different ways. First, in assembling a challenging series of arguments around its core topic; second, in breaking new ground in how to do political philosophy; and third, in demonstrating that a work in political philosophy can be written with such clarity and can communicate with the lay reader without sacrificing rigour or philosophical depth. In this last respect it is astonishing: it is beautifully written, never hides behind jargon and engages with its readers without patronising them. In short, it is a great achievement.

The book has two parts. In the first, Carens takes as given the widespread view that states have the discretionary right to control immigration: who comes in, who gets to be a member. With this assumption in hand, he then argues that widely-accepted democratic norms still place moral limits on what states may and may not justly do, and that those with a substantial connection to a polity, and particularly those subject to its laws over an extended period of time, have a right to full membership, a right that may not be limited by considerations of language, culture or race. In the second part, he abandons this assumption and argues for his open borders utopia (although there is a good deal of continuity between the two parts). In each, he uses what he calls “cantilever arguments”, proceeding from some assumption that his imagined interlocutor accepts and using this assumption to argue for more radical normative conclusions. In this post, I’m going to engage mainly with some issues in the first part of the book.

However, one difficulty I have in thinking about how to discuss the work in a symposium such as this is in finding ways to disagree with it. The earlier chapters, in particular, are thoroughly persuasive to me on the topics of citizenship and integration. Carens takes the argument quite slowly, introducing each topic with a vignette about the personal situation of a migrant and then going on to demonstrate the injustice in their status or what has happened to them. It is hard to think that a humane and liberal person will disagree with much in Carens’s theory of social membership: the idea that real material connection to a society ought to be the central criterion for membership and citizenship rather than inheritance or birthplace.

Persuading me of such conclusions, however, is a relatively easy thing to do. I already believe them and I also believe in the supposedly shared democratic norms that Carens claims imply them. However, I’m less confident than he is that there is widespread agreement on such principles outside of a minority liberal elite. My worries about the book’s argument are twofold: first, I think that support for the norms he relies upon is much narrower than he believes; second, it is sometimes unclear what the content of the area of supposed agreement is. I try to bring this latter point out with reference to what Carens has to say about temporary workers and the phenomenon of “brain drain”.

Carens’s method of argument explicitly draws on Rawls’s idea of the “overlapping consensus”: the idea that reasonable people agree on a number of substantive propositions about the way in which a legitimate state should be organized, even if they disagree on their underlying moral and political justification. Areas of agreement include ideas such as that citizens should be equal before the law, that freedoms of religion, speech and assembly should be protected, that every adult citizen of sound mind should have a right to political participation, and so forth. Carens want to show his fellow citizens that the reasonable policies he favours on citizenship and integration are implied by principles they already accept. This is a rather different use of overlapping consensus from Rawls’s one. Whereas Rawls wanted to demonstrate the possibility of a legitimate liberal political order coexisting with the fact of disagreement, Carens’s argument is more pragmatic and his aim is more political. He wants to get people from principles they already accept to conclusions he wants to persuade them of. He leaves us in no doubt that he is making a set of empirical claims about what citizens of democratic states believe. For example, “on a wide range of topics there is no serious disagreement among those who think of themselves as democrats” (2-3) and “that conventional framework is one that most people in democratic states accept” (185). On the morning after the European Parliament elections it is hard to share his confidence in democratic consensus: the existence of “unreasonable people”, a theoretical problem for Rawls, is an immediately practical one for Carens.

The worry, then, is that the empirical claim about widely shared beliefs may be false. Carens may be conflating what electors in liberal democratic states actually believe and the story that liberal democratic societies officially tell about themselves: the civics lesson is substituting for political sociology. Many modern societies are deeply marked in their constitutional order by the post-war settlement. The European Convention on Human Rights, for example, drafted by British Conservative lawyers and adopted by nearly all European states, contains many of the propositions at the heart of Carens’s overlapping consensus. It wouldn’t be hard to find large numbers of statements from politicians or journalists endorsing the general principles. Once we move away from high-days and holidays, however, we get a different picture. For something deemed a “consensus” there is very little popular agreement around these principles and a pervasive hostility among populist politicians and the press to the “human rights industry”. Even where politicians play lip service to some version of a principle, say, the right to family life, they do so in a highly conditional way: they are happy to endorse the idea so long as it doesn’t clash with their desire—as in the case of British Home Secretary Theresa May—to deport “foreign criminals”. In the case of other measures, such as proposals in the UK and Canada to strip naturalized citizens of their status under certain circumstances, politicians seem entirely cavalier about the consistency of their actions with any underlying principles and their seems to be little resistance from the average elector on grounds of shared principle.

We see this disconnection in play in both Europe and North America today. On both continents we see public reason on the basis of fundamental principles being more and more the province of jurists and academics, whilst politicians fulminate against “unelected judges”. For the most part, mainstream politicians do not explicitly reject constitutional and human rights principles in the name of some other set of principles. Rather, they proceed from a vague amalgam of nativist nationalism and majoritarianism, without ever openly defending such ideas. Nativist majoritatianism—the idea that the national territory belongs to its ethnically-conceived people and that migrants are trespassers—does have its explicit defenders, of course. But insofar as these commitments are openly professed, it is by the populist far right. More mainstream politicians, however, make much of the need to take account of the “reasonable concerns” of electors who unreflectively endorse such views, and are happy to grandstand when judges thwart specific measures for human-rights reasons.

What happens when we press the issue, and insist that such and such a policy is a requirement of some human-rights principle? Supposing Carens demonstrates to an average citizen or a mainstream politician that, say, granting membership to long-term irregular migrants is a requirement of norms they are already committed to? As the saying goes, one person’s modus ponens is another person’s modus tollens. Faced with such an implication, Carens’s interlocutor may choose to save the situation not by accepting the conclusion but by revising their commitment to the antecendent principle. In the later section on open borders, we get a glimpse of such a reaction, when Carens tells us that confronted with the fact that the reasons they favour internal freedom of movement within states also support open borders, many of his interlocutors “are willing to throw internal freedom of movement under the bus” (245).

My second big worry about the book concerns its minimalism: Carens’s decision to proceed from widely-accepted propositions rather than embedding his theory of immigration within a broader theory of global justice. I have a lot of sympathy with this strategy, but I’m not such that he succeeds in pulling it off at all points in the book. My concern here is that some of the arguments he relies upon in the first part may tacitly invoke more extensive commitments concerning global justice than he is officially signed up for. The key concession that Carens makes, in that first part, is, again, that states have a discretionary right to control their borders, albeit a right of which the practice is morally criticizable. The argument is then supposed to proceed from the norms at the heart of the overlapping consensus plus permissible discretionary exclusion. Is this what actually happens though? Here are two places where I wasn’t altogether convinced that it did: Carens’s discussion of temporary workers and his reponse to the brain-drain argument. Let me take these in turn.

Some people, such as Martin Ruhs in his recent book The Price of Rights (Princeton, 2013), think that there is a trade-off between granting rights to temporary workers and the numbers who secure admission. From the perspective of global justice, this can lead to a problem. To the extent to which temporary workers in wealthy countries are offered the same rights and conditions as domestic worker, then fewer of them will be employed. Instead they will be trapped behind the border, probably unemployed or doing a similar job under worse conditions they could have access to if the labour regime were different. Instead of reducing poverty back home by sending home valuable remittances, they are denied the valuable opportunity to do so (Carens, 112). Carens is unmoved. He writes:

Every state is responsible for what goes on within its own jurisdiction. A state has to make a judgement about acceptable health and safety standards and other minimum working conditions within its own territory (115) …. We have a different kind of responsibility for what goes on in our own jurisdiction than we do for what goes on elsewhere (117).

When a group of us discussed this section in Bristol, opinion was divided. Some of us agreed with Carens but others did not, arguing that we should hold states morally responsible for the effects they bring about, and that therefore policy choices that result in the least advantaged languishing in poor countries, excluded from labour markets, are choices that should be condemned. Now in part two of the book, the open borders utopia effectively disposes of this dilemma. But in part one, we have to face it squarely and resolve it within the restrictions in place there and it is hard to see how we can do that—either way —without relying on further controversial premises. Carens, in endorsing a view about the limits of state responsibility effectively does just that, effectively, he lines up with people like John Rawls and David Miller against their cosmopolitan and globalist critics. My worry is that that this makes the commitments of part one more substantive, extensive and controversial than he officially acknowledges, it casts doubt on the isolationist and minimimalist strategy of relying on a fund of shared premises.

Something of the same worry attends Carens’s discussion of the brain-drain issue in his chapter on “Ordinary Admissions”. Here Carens sets aside the difficult empirical issues around whether policies that recruit, for example, medical professionals from poor states are on balance beneficial or harmful for those states. He does this in order to focus more clearly on the normative issues. Apparently true to the self-denying restrictions of part one he writes, “Within the limits of the conventional assumption, I see no basis for asserting an obligation on rich states to adopt immigration policies that do not harm poor ones.” (185) So even if it turned out that states had policies that did impoverish already poor countries, this would be permissible: it wouldn’t be unjust. This seems altogether too quick given that it identifies justice very narrowly with what states are formally entitled to do. This identification is out of step with the argument elsewhere in part one, where he explicitly rejects the move from “states have a right to φ ” to “the decision of states to φ is beyond moral criticism”. One way of understanding Carens’s rejection of that move there is to say that merely formal considerations of entitlement do not exhaust the requirements of justice. Yet here states who pursue harmful policies are criticizable for being “ungenerous” but not for being unjust. I haven’t done a survey of what my fellow citizens believe, but were we to ask a sample of them whether it is unjust for rich countries to pursue policies that harm poor people in poor ones, I expect I would get a wide measure of assent. Probably that consensus would disappear if we were to leave the realm of generality and spell out the details of particular cases. Nevertheless, it is hard to assert categorically either that “harming is permissible” or “harming is impermissible” is in the shared fund of democratic agreement, but it looks like we have to take a view one way or the other. If we do either, then it looks like we are starting to buy into a more substantive conception of justice than Carens wants to at this stage.

Having criticized Carens’s strategy in some details, however, I do want to make clear how far I actually agree with it. If, in order to make progress on some particular question in applied ethics or political philosophy, were were obliged to embed our arguments within a comprehensive theory pf justice, then we’d never make genuine progress on those issues. And insofar as we can get a consensus around substantive normative principles without also securing agreement around their underlying justificaiton, it is highly desirable to do so. Inevitably, though, sometimes more extensive commitments are lurking behind particular moral conclusion. This is, I think, less of a problem than Carens’s optimism about what our fellow “democrats” believe. Insofar as they think systematically about these ideas at all, they probably reject elements of the liberal consensus that Carens has them endorsing.

Categories: Group Blogs

These Housekeepers Asked Sheryl Sandberg to Lean In with Them. What Happened Next Will Not Amaze You.

Crooked Timber - Sat, 2014-05-24 10:44

Sheryl Sandberg claims to speak for working women. Especially poorer working women, according to the spokeswoman for Sandberg’s Lean In foundation: “The principles of Lean In are just as, if not more, important to women with lower incomes.”

So now comes Sandberg’s big test: Will she stand up for, and with, the women workers at a Hilton DoubleTree hotel in Cambridge, which is on a property owned by Harvard University? The workers want to be represented by a union. The hotel is resisting them. And Harvard isn’t helping.

Sandberg is going to be at Harvard this week, delivering a Class Day speech. The female employees at the hotel have asked to meet with her.

What happened next will not amaze you.

According to the Boston Globe, Sandberg “sent word she does not have time to host a ‘Lean In circle’ with the hotel employees.”

Here’s more from the Globe:

The attempt to unionize the workers began more than a year ago, when 70 percent of the approximately 112 nonmanagerial workers at the DoubleTree — housekeepers, banquet servers, front desk agents, van drivers, and Scullers Jazz Club employees — signed a petition asking for a “fair process,” Local 26 said.

Such an agreement would allow them to discuss joining a union without retaliation from the company. When a group of workers and Harvard students tried to deliver the petition to the former general manager, he refused to accept it, according to Local 26.

DoubleTree management has held meetings with employees, both in groups and one-on-one, to discourage them from unionizing, according to Local 26. It said management retaliated against one organizing committee member by putting fliers in the cafeteria and locker room calling him a “mole” and taking away extra shifts at Scullers.

Hilton declined to respond to the allegations.

Sandberg has been criticized for creating a movement aimed at financially well-off women, but her Lean In foundation says it has partnered with several organizations that serve lower-income women, including Dress for Success, and supports Lean In circles of domestic workers in San Francisco, as well as rescued sex slaves in Miami.

As part of the hospitality workers union, DoubleTree workers would get a bump in pay, more affordable health insurance, and standardized workloads.

DoubleTree workers are not necessarily on the bottom rung of the economic ladder. Housekeeper Delmy Lemus, for instance, earns $15.82 an hour, plus tips, and has access to company-subsidized health insurance.

But Lemus, 33, said the family plan rates would consume nearly half her weekly paycheck. She decided to opt out of the benefit and enroll herself and her two daughters in MassHealth, the state insurance plan for low-income residents.

The job is physically demanding, Lemus said. When she was pregnant with her now 4-year-old daughter, Lemus began suffering sciatic nerve pain and was barely able to stand by the end of her shifts.

In her eighth month of pregnancy, she was assigned to the hotel’s laundry room. Lemus said she had to push carts loaded with linen and pull out heavy sofa beds.

“Almost every day I was crying,” the Revere resident said.

In a survey of dozens of DoubleTree workers done for Local 26 last summer, Harvard student Gabriel Bayard said every employee he interviewed complained of chronic pain, and nearly all said their workloads had increased in recent years.

More than 100 Harvard students have gotten involved in the DoubleTree campaign, including Sasanka Jinadasa, 21, president of the Radcliffe Union of Students, a feminist advocacy group. “If [Harvard] has a vested interest in the profits and the outcome of the company, it should care about what the workers want as well,” she said.

Lemus, a single mother, wants to save up enough money to send her daughters to college and eventually start her own housecleaning service. She said “leaning in” to make her voice heard, and fighting for union protections, is the beginning of that process.

“We’re just housekeepers, people without education. But we work very hard,” she said. “We have dreams. . . . We don’t want to die cleaning rooms in a hotel.”

Perhaps all the scolds who think students shouldn’t protest commencement speakers whose views they don’t like, and who think, in the face of all the evidence, that commencement speeches are an occasion of deep intellectual exchange, could now put some pressure on Sandberg to actually use her Class Day speech to say something beyond bromides and cliches. And to meet with the workers, and their student supporters, so that we can have a real exchange of ideas. Now that would be a commencement worthy of its name.

Please support the workers’ call for Sandberg to meet with them by signing here. I know folks don’t like to sign petitions, but sometimes, particularly in situations like these, they can make a difference.

Categories: Group Blogs

New book series in Rhetoric, Law, & the Humanities

The Blogora - Fri, 2014-05-23 21:58

Clarke Rountree,

New book series in Rhetoric, Law, & the Humanities

The University of Alabama Press has created a new book series in Rhetoric, Law, & the Humanities. The series will be edited by Dr. Clarke Rountree, Professor and Chair of Communication Arts at the University of Alabama in Huntsville.

Rhetoric, Law, and the Humanities seeks to publish scholarship that examines law through a rhetorical lens.

read more

Categories: Group Blogs

Tweeting #RSA14

The Blogora - Thu, 2014-05-22 06:53

I remember when 'blogging was the best way to follow conference action. Heck, I remember when attending was the only way to follow conference action. Below, some anticipatory Twitter excitement about the 2014 meeting of the Rhetoric Society of America in San Antonio.

Nathan Johnson ‏@natezilla 11m
If you're going to #RSA14 and you get me a t-shirt, you'll be my hero. If it's a rhetoric shirt, you're a superhero.

Patricia Fancher ‏@trish_fancher 20m
Early morning travel to my first #RSA14 and my first visit to #texas

Jennifer Mercieca ‏@jenmercieca 29m

read more

Categories: Group Blogs

Education and opportunity

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-05-21 21:18

I’ve got a piece up at the Chronicle of Education, with the title Campus Reflections (paywalled, but there’s a version at my blog) making the point that a higher education system is, in important respects, a mirror of the society that created it, and that it helps to recreate. If that’s true, it follows that the idea of education as a route to equality of opportunity, let alone equality of outcomes, is misconceived. This idea has always been popular among social democrats and even more so by advocates of ‘The Third Way’, who needed it to justify their abandonment of policies aimed at equalising outcomes.

Thinking about the point in this more general context, I’d want to qualify the ‘mirror’ claim a bit. There have been important instances where access to education has been substantially more egalitarian than access to resources in general, so that education did serve to promote equality of opportunity and perhaps also some equalisation of incomes (since it reduced the correlation between access to good jobs and ownership of wealth). The creation of universal public education systems in the 19th century was one example. These systems were far from being equal: they typically streamed students along class lines. But even giving working class kids the basics of literacy and numeracy was a big step forward, and there were opportunities for the bright and determined to do much better than that. The GI Bill in the US was another (if readers can point me to a good source of more detailed info on this I’d be grateful).

But, to the extent that education is a market commodity, it will be allocated on the basis of ability to pay. So, in the absence of a strong policy push in the opposite direction, unequal access to education for young people will reflect the unequal wealth and income of their parents. The US higher education system, like the health system, mirrors the outcomes of labor and capital markets pretty closely. It does a great job for the 1 per cent who go to the Ivy League Schools (and whose parents are mostly in or close to the top 1 per cent of the income distribution), does an adequate but expensive job for the next 20 per cent or so, and leaves everyone else to take their chances.

Categories: Group Blogs

Basic rights, membership and the UK’s toxic immigration debate

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-05-21 03:56

From Monday we’ll be running an online symposium on Joseph Carens’s brilliant The Ethics of Immigration. (It is the book that sets a new standard for what “long-awaited” means.) So stay tuned. Meanwhile, I was speaking yesterday at a seminar organized by Democracy Forum at the House of Commons on “Immigration: Liability or Asset”. My talk, which shows the influence of Carens’s work in many respects, is below the fold.

Immigration: liability or asset?

Many people, asked whether immigration is a liability or an asset, will interpret the question in a straightforwardly economic way. They will wonder what the economic facts are, and whether immigration tends to boost national prosperity or whether it imposes unacceptable costs on that stock character from political rhetoric, “the taxpayer”. Those broadly in favour of immigration, if they suspect the economic facts may be against them, will then sing the benefits of cultural diversity and ethnic cuisine. Those against it will warn darkly of the low tolerance of voters for too much change and point to actual or imagined popular anxieties about the disappearance of the familiar.

I have no special expertise on the economic questions and I am also somewhat sceptical about how far it is a legitimate goal of public policy to promote or defend private tastes and preferences about cookery, diversity or anything else, particularly if doing so comes at the expense of the rights of others. So I intend to take a different tack, noting first that it is an important responsibility of the state to protect and defend the most vital interests of its members, and second that we have to ask “liability or asset for whom?” The first question has to do with a wider range of interests that citizens and others have that go beyond the merely financial, including interests in choosing for oneself the kind of life one wants to lead and where and with whom one wants to lead it, together with interests in not being subject to injustice and unfair discrimination; the second with who gets to be included within the class of people whose interests should be promoted and defended by the state. Both of these raise questions of principle, questions of what a legitimate state must and may do, and who it is answerable to. These are questions that have been pushed to the margins of recent policy debate in the UK, with, I believe, disastrous and immoral consequences. This is, in part, because politicians have been reckless about considerations of principle and guided overwhelmingly by immediate electoral concerns. As a consequence, we get policy objectives like the net migration target, which issue in damaging policies like restrictions on the right to form a family with the person one loves, in attempts to create a “hostile environment” for irregular migrants, and sundry other measures.

To take one example, the right to form a union with the person you love, to settle down, perhaps to have a family, is a pretty basic right. To their great credit, politicians of all parties now recognize that this right should not be arbitrarily restricted to heterosexuals. Similarly politicians have much to say about the importance of the family and family life to British society, they praise “hard-working families” and depict themselves as family-friendly. The right to family life is, of course, also recognized by the European Convention on Human Rights.

The right to family life is not absolute, of course, and we intervene in families when they are sites of violence and abuse and have systems to deal with that. But it is a pretty important right, corresponding to a basic interest that people have. Not one to be lightly disregarded or overridden. Having rights of any kind are an asset to those who have them, a guarantee against interference.

Now we live in an increasingly globalized world. People travel, people meet other people, people fall in love. We had a good example of this in last week’s Masterchef, when we learned that Ping, the winner, had met her husband when he was on his gap year in Malaysia. When people fall in love and form a stable union with someone from another country, they usually wish to settle down and live together with that person. In the normal course of things, they will choose to live in the country of nationality of one or the other of them (Ping lives with her husband and baby daughter in Bath). Recently, in the case of couples with a non-EU partner, government has severely restricted their ability to live together in the UK. Extending earlier requirements, the British government now requires the British partner to have a verifiable income of £18,600 pa, with the sum rising considerably if there are children involved. The prospects of the foreign partner don’t come into it, and if the British partner is, say self-employed, there are more onerous requirements still: income must not fall below £1550 in any single month over the year. If it does, the clock starts ticking again.

As the BritCits campaigning group has demonstrated time and time again, this frequently leads to catastrophic and horrible consequences for couples and their families. Children are often separated from a parent; adults are often confronted with tragic choices between caring for elderly parents in one country and living with husband or wife in another. In some cases, couples will resolve the problem by choosing to live together in the overseas country, and often a highly skilled and educated British citizen is lost to this country forever (and perhaps forever embittered against the country of their birth). Notice that if the other country were to introduce similar rules to the UK, there might be no country where the couple could legally live together.

Ministers have defended these measures by saying that people should not be allowed to import a foreign spouse “at the taxpaxer’s expense” and that in setting the income threshold they were only acting on the advice of the independent Migration Advisory Committee. This latter point is disingenuous. The MAC answered the question that it was asked by the government, a deliberately narrow question, and made a point of observing that there might be other relevant considerations that it was not asked about. Ministers have justified £18,600 as being the level necessary so that the couple will not be taking more in benefits than they pay in taxes, and also as being the level necessary for playing a full part in society. Since incoming spouses are, initially at least, denied “recourse to public funds” the taxpayer rationale looks shaky on its own terms. That the government believes that a level of income higher than either the minimum wage or the “Living Wage” is necessary to function in society is problematic for other obvious reasons.

My objection, however, is more basic. If a right is a basic right of citizenship, the denial of which is catastrophic for a person’s prospects of living a decent human life, it should not be conditional on being a net contributor to the tax system (as if that were the only valid measure of contribution to society). Think of other rights: the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, the right to emergency medical treatment, the right not to be subject to racial discrimination in employment or housing, the right to be protected from serious crime by the police. None of these rights is conditional on being a net taxpayer and most people think that it would be monstrously unjust to make them so. That wasn’t always the case, of course. The right to vote used to be subject to a property qualification, but most people now agree that both rich and poor citizens have the right to participate in elections. If a citizen wishes to live with the person they love in their own country, however, that is now subject to a property qualification. Is this because this right is of lesser importance? It is hard to think so. One imagines that many people would gladly surrender the right to vote for a Westminster MP in return for the right to live with their spouse and see their children again. One might add that there is a peculiar cynicism in a political class that has failed people by arranging the economy so that it is marked by inequality and disadvantage then further penalising those denied opportunities by limiting their basic rights.

Why then, has the government chosen to restrict the rights and opportunities of it citizens in this way? One conjecture is that this is because of its obsession with the net migration target, with an abstract number. Much migration is hard to control because of things like treaty obligations, so the government, wanting to be seen to be doing something about a supposed “problem” and reckless of the basic rights of its citizens, squeezes where it can, and family migration is one place that it can restrict the flow.

Some people might think, in reply to what I’ve just said, that the answer, then, is obvious. If citizens’ basic rights are being restricted because the government cannot control other migration flows then we should change things so as to get those flows under control. Perhaps we should leave the EU or renegotiate its basic principles on freedom of movement? Now it is true that the right to live and work in another country is less basic than the right to live with your spouse and have children. But we have to recognize the fact that it is an important right nonetheless and proposals to restrict intra-EU migration are proposal to deny British citizens an important asset that they currently enjoy. My own father-in-law—made unemployed in the early years of the Thatcher government—ended up taking Mr Tebbit’s advice. He got on his metaphorical bike, left Liverpool, and ended up working in a factory in West Germany, thereby enabled to send money home to support his family. And of course, to this day, many British people resettle elsewhere in Europe either to work or to retire. Freedom of movement is an asset to these people, and governments should be wary about stripping their citizens of rights and opportunities they now have.

I now want to turn to my second question, concerning who immigration is an asset or a liability for. Here’s a truism: the country is made up of individuals, who have interests that they wish to pursue. Ultimately, claims that are made about growth in the economy or the power and influence of the United Kingdom have to be cashed out in terms of the interests of the individuals who compose it. Those individuals have a number of resources at their disposal to pursue those interests: some of these are financial, clearly, but they include basic rights and liberties. Which individuals, then, have the right to have their interests promoted by the UK government? One answer will say that it is the citizens of the United Kingdom. This answer is too quick, for a number of reasons. First, we have to note that many people elsewhere have a right not to be harmed by us, to have their human rights respected, and to have any obligations we have undertaken towards them observed. The UK also has a duty, alongside other governments, to pursue ends that that are the common objective of the state system, and these include upholding international law, acting to mitigate climate change, and protecting those whom the state system has failed, such as refugees. Second, there are those who are not yet citizens who have a claim on us, chiefly members of future generations. Third, we cannot restrict ourselves to current members of the electorate, because we have to ask ourselves who has a moral claim to inclusion, to membership, to political rights. The fact that women were excluded from the franchise before the First World War does not entail that governments then were at liberty just to ignore their interests. Rather, they had a duty to do correct their exclusion.

In practice, the harmful exclusion of those who have a moral right to inclusion and membership has two dimensions, one social the other legal, and both of these are endangered by current policy and by the character of the immigration debate. The social aspect is that policies that tacitly take as normative a notion of British identity that is based on native white stereotypes tend to exclude and devalue people who don’t fit that template. Policies that start from the perceived anxieties and “legitimate concerns” of Mrs Gillian Duffy, tacitly devalue the anxieties and concerns of British citizens from other ethnic and cultural backgrounds. This privileging of some identities in the the political debate too easily translates into discrimination and unequal treatment on the ground. Increasing regulation of the labour market to prevent the employment of irregular migrants and the new provisions imposing penalties to landlords who let accommodation to such migrants will predictably have an effect on people with a legal entitlement to be here. Employers and landlords will err on the side of caution, and many British citizens will rightly be offended at being asked to prove their status whilst their white counterparts are waved through. This is a real cost imposed on our fellow citizens by these measures. The only way to implement these policies in a non-discriminatory way would be to impose some national identity scheme on everyone, a proposal that has been defeated in the past because of its onerous nature, its cost and its implications for civil liberties.

The second way in which the current debate has been massively harmful to the interests of people who have a right to membership in our society is that it has prevented us from having a principled conversation about granting rights to citizenship. In fact, things have gone alarmingly in the opposite direction, with the Home Office making statements about citizenship being a “privilege not a right” and new powers being taken to deprive naturalized citizens of their citizenship at the discretion of the Home Secretary, thereby creating another class of people whose citizenship rights are lesser and different to those of others. This is in addition to making the requirements to acquire citizenship for long-term residents, people who have grown up in this country, may even have been born in it, more onerous than ever. Nobody knows how many people there are in the country with irregular status, but it may be around 600,000 of whom perhaps 120,000 will be children, half of who will have been born in the UK. Some of these people have a moral claim to membership of our society on the basis of long residence, social connection, family ties etc. The prevailing discourse from the Home Office and politicians is that “illegal immigrants” need to be removed, but in practice everyone knows that this is not going to happen and that the blanket condemnation of all such people as lawbreakers deliberately ignores a complex social reality.

We need to address the status of persons in this category for two reasons. First, because the imperative of survival for people with irregular status, exposes them to exploitation, crime and abuse in all kinds of familiar ways and denies them effective remedies. This cannot be in the public interest. Second, it is a basic principle of democratic legitimacy that those subject to the law should have a say in making it. Both of these reasons support giving such people a path to regularize their status and, ultimately to acquire citizenship. The trouble is that the current anti-immigration rhetoric is such that a sensible conversation around the status of irregular migrants cannot even be had.

The topic of this debate is “immigration: liability or asset?” My contention has been that this debate has been too narrowly framed in economic terms. Rights and liberties are assets too and the rights and liberties of ordinary people—the people who actually compose the country—are being abridged and endangered by the current politics of immigration. Worse, when we think of the liabilities of that debate, they fall disproportionately and unjustly on a few people particularly on the poorest and most vulnerable. They fall on people with the ill luck to fall in love with a foreigner and earning too little to beat the new restrictive rules. They fall on citizens who don’t fit the stereotype of what a British person is supposed to look like and may face discrimination in employment or housing. And they fall on people with a claim to inclusion in our society, including children born here, whose voices cannot be heard over the clamour to restore “control over our borders”. The rights of these people are a valuable asset to us all, and they need protecting.

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I Don’t Know Whether This Point Needs to be Belabored …

Crooked Timber - Wed, 2014-05-21 00:16

but David Brooks apparently doesn’t know what ‘democracy’ means.

The quickest way around all this is to use elite Simpson-Bowles-type commissions to push populist reforms.

The process of change would be unapologetically elitist. Gather small groups of the great and the good together to hammer out bipartisan reforms — on immigration, entitlement reform, a social mobility agenda, etc. — and then rally establishment opinion to browbeat the plans through. But the substance would be anything but elitist. Democracy’s great advantage over autocratic states is that information and change flow more freely from the bottom up. Those with local knowledge have more responsibility.

If the Guardian State’s big advantage is speed at the top, democracy’s is speed at the bottom. So, obviously, the elite commissions should push proposals that magnify that advantage: which push control over poverty programs to local charities; which push educational diversity through charter schools; which introduce more market mechanisms into public provision of, say, health care, to spread power to consumers.

So if I understand Brooks right, we have elite commissions “of the great and the good” pushing ‘populist reforms’ from on high, where ‘populist’ is apparently a specialized term of art for ‘shit that technocrats really love.’ And the ‘democratic’ elements at the bottom consist of:

  • Poverty programs that have been turned over from the public sector to charities.
  • Education, which has been turned over from the public sector to charter schools.
  • Healthcare, which has been turned over even further to the market.

If this is an argument for ‘democracy,’ it’s a deeply weird and contorted one. At the heart of the confusion – and I suspect that this is a real and profound confusion, not a deliberate obfuscation – is an elision of the concepts of democracy and “local knowledge.” Brooks’ ideal society seems to be a chimeric offspring of Plato and Hayek. Commissions of aristocrats (who really do know better) hammer out grand social reforms. The specifics of implementation are left to those with local knowledge, who can best decide how to do things given the particulars.

In this grand scheme, there’s no democracy, either at the top nor the bottom. The grand commissions at the top are designed not to be accountable. And at the bottom, Brook’s proposals for charities, charter schools and market-driven healthcare all look to carve large areas of public activity out of public control.

You can make a case for some of this (e.g. charter schools) if you like, based on the expansion of choice, but you aren’t making an argument for democratic choice, which is all about collective control of destiny through argument and voting. More specifically, you can argue that democratic choice is not the appropriate form of choice for a particular social activity, or that democratic choice is both effectively absent and unachievable for that activity, and hence that some other form of choice ought to be instituted. You may even be right – but you are not making an argument for greater democracy, and you shouldn’t pretend to yourself and your readers that you are.

More generally, if you’re using rewarmed Hayek as the basis for your arguments about how democracy should be revitalized, you’re starting off from the wrong place. Hayek’s enthusiasm for democracy is at best contingent. There are theorists (like James Scott) who do want to combine local knowledge with democracy, but they start in a very different place than Brooks does, and want to end up in a very different place too.

So in short, Brooks’ argument for how democracies ought to compete with (purportedly more efficient) non-democracies is that they should become less democratic themselves. Or maybe, it’s that the secret advantage of democracies can be found in their non-democratic elements. It’s a point of view, certainly, but one which ought to be stated clearly and directly, rather than cloaked in the fiction that e.g. turning over poverty programs to private charity somehow adds a ‘democratic’ gloss to your grand bipartisan commissions. There’s a strong technocratic strain in Anglo-American thought which wants to push back against democracy, on the right (Brooks), among liberal-to-centrists (e.g. this Alan Blinder piece) and the left (the late Tony Judt). But few technocrats are willing to come out and describe themselves as actually anti-democratic, even if that’s where their ideas very obviously are leading them.

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NEH Summer Stipends

The Blogora - Tue, 2014-05-20 21:36

Sponsor: National Endowment for the Humanities/Natl. Fndn. on the Arts &
Program Number: 40494
Title: Summer Stipends
Web Site:
Program URL:
SYNOPSIS: Summer Stipends support individuals pursuing advanced
research that is of value to humanities scholars, general audiences,
or both.
Deadline(s): 09/30/2014

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Free Faculty Development Teleconference

The Blogora - Tue, 2014-05-20 06:28


This is a unique FREE virtual teleconference, in which 11 experts will clarify what just doesn’t work in academia, and also give you action steps to help you accomplish what you came to do.

read more

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Stalinism on the Installment Plan

Crooked Timber - Tue, 2014-05-20 00:24

One of the most frequent motifs in the literature on Stalinism is that of the dissenter who confesses to a crime he never committed. What made Stalinism so depraved, in the eyes of intellectuals, was not that it jailed or slaughtered men and women by the millions; it was that it was that it got those men and women, who were plainly innocent, to affirm their guilt to a waiting world.

Here in the US, we don’t need to force people to confess to crimes they didn’t commit (though we certainly do that, too). No, to truly validate our system, we conscript the defendant’s soul in a different way.

A state-by-state survey conducted by NPR found that defendants are charged for many government services that were once free, including those that are constitutionally required. For example:

  • In at least 43 states and the District of Columbia, defendants can be billed for a public defender.

  • In at least 41 states, inmates can be charged room and board for jail and prison stays.

  • In at least 44 states, offenders can get billed for their own probation and parole supervision.

  • And in all states except Hawaii, and the District of Columbia, there’s a fee for the electronic monitoring devices defendants and offenders are ordered to wear.

These fees — which can add up to hundreds or even thousands of dollars — get charged at every step of the system, from the courtroom, to jail, to probation. Defendants and offenders pay for their own arrest warrants, their court-ordered drug and alcohol-abuse treatment and to have their DNA samples collected. They are billed when courts need to modernize their computers. In Washington state, for example, they even get charged a fee for a jury trial — with a 12-person jury costing $250, twice the fee for a six-person jury.

It would be short-sighted to see these policies as mere cost-saving measures. Their function seems as ideological as it is financial. As one court administrator in Michigan put it:

The only reason that the court is in operation and doing business at that point in time is because that defendant has come in and is a user of those services. They don’t necessarily see themselves as a customer because, obviously, they’re not choosing to be there. But in reality they are.

That these policies overwhelmingly target the poor only adds to their allure: What better way to reform capitalism’s losers than to force them to pay to play?

In the same way that the Stalinist show trial was meant to model the virtuous comrade—so dutiful to the ideals of communism that he would sacrifice his very life in order to validate the cause—so does the American criminal justice system model the virtuous capitalist: so committed to the ideals of the free market that he’s willing to pay the price, in both senses of the word, of his crime.

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The War on Workers’ Rights

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-05-18 22:05

I have an oped in the New York Times on the Republican war on workers’ rights at the state level. My conclusion:

The overall thrust of this state legislation is to create workers who are docile and employers who are empowered. That may be why Republican legislators in Idaho, Wisconsin, Michigan, Maine, Ohio, Minnesota, Utah and Missouri have been so eager to ease restrictions on when and how much children can work. High schoolers should learn workplace virtues, says the conservative commentator Ben Stein, like “not talking back.” Early exposure to employment will teach 12-year-olds, as the spokesman of an Idaho school district put it, that “you have to do what you’re asked, what your supervisor is telling you.”

And if workers don’t learn that lesson in junior high, recent Republican changes to state unemployment codes will ensure that they learn it as adults. In 2011, Florida stipulated that any employee fired for “deliberate violation or disregard of the reasonable standards of behavior which the employer expects” would be ineligible for unemployment benefits. Arkansas passed a similar amendment (“violation of any behavioral policies of the employer”). The following year so did South Carolina (“deliberate violations or disregard of standards of behavior which the employer has the right to expect”) and Tennessee. The upshot of these changes is that any employee breaking the rules of her employer — be they posting comments about work on Facebook, dating a co-worker or an employee from a rival firm, going to the bathroom without permission — can be fired and denied unemployment. Faced with that double penalty, any worker might think twice about crossing her boss.

What might Adam Smith, often claimed as the intellectual godfather of the American right, have said about these legislative efforts? “Whenever the legislature attempts to regulate the differences between masters and their workmen,” wrote Smith in “The Wealth of Nations,” “its counsellors are always the masters. When the regulation, therefore, is in favour of the workmen, it is always just and equitable; but it is sometimes otherwise when in favour of the masters.”


The oped is based on Gordon Lafer’s eye-opening report last fall for the Economic Policy Institute, “The Legislative Attack on American Wages and Labor Standards, 2011-2012,” which you should also read.

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Piketty crossing the Delaware

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-05-18 17:34

Like lots of other readers of Thomas Piketty’s Capital, my big concern is not with the accuracy of the diagnosis and prognosis but with the feasibility of the prescription. Piketty’s proposal for a global wealth tax requires an end to the capacity of capital to escape taxation by exploiting the limitations of national taxations system, through tax havens, transfer pricing, artificial corporate structures and so on.

Given the limited record of success in past efforts to control global tax evasion and avoidance, Piketty is reasonably pessimistic about efforts in this direction. But the latest news from the OECD is remarkably positive. All members of the OECD (notably including evader-friendly jurisdictions like Austria, Luxembourg and Switzerland) have agreed to a system of automatic information exchange for tax purposes. Moreover, the “too big to jail” status of major banks engaged in facilitating tax evasion and money laundering, may finally be coming to an end.

On the face of it, the oft-repeated, but so far unjustified claim that “the days of tax havens are over“, may finally be coming true, at least for all but the wealthiest individuals. But the crackdown on individual tax evaders only points up the ease with which corporations (and individuals with the means to establish complex corporate structures) can avoid tax through a mixture of legal avoidance and unprovable evasion (for example, by illegal but unprovable internal transfers).

At the core of the problem is the ability to establish corporations in ways that make their true ownership impossible to trace. And, the jurisdiction most responsible for this is not a Caribbean island or European mini-state, but the “First State” of the US - Delaware, which has long been the preferred location for US incorporation by reason of its business friendly laws.

For a long while, most reference to Delaware as a tax haven came in the form of a tu quoque from the pro-haven side of the debate. Since any challenge to Delaware’s role in the corporate sector seemed unthinkable, it was argued, any US criticism of Switzerland or Luxembourg was mere hypocrisy. The same point was made about the UK and France, with reference to their various offshore dependencies (the Channel Islands, Caymans and so on). But now the argument has turned around. As the various tax havens have fallen into line with OECD agreements and US legislation like the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (FATCA), they now have an incentive to turn attention on to Delaware. Having a corporation registered in Delaware is starting to look somewhat like possession of a Swiss bank account: not necessarily illegal or even improper, but certainly something that arouses suspicion. Here are a few straws in the wind

  • A New York Times story on corruption and money laundering in Europe gives a prominent mention to the role of “US states like Delaware and Wyoming”. There’s an internal link to an Op-Ed I’d missed, entitled “Delaware: Den of Thieves?
  • In the course of the recent election campaign in Quebec, a prominent supporter of the Parti Quebecois was attacked for apparently owning companies registered in Delaware
  • US Senator Carl Levin’s long-stalled attempts to bring in a “Stop Tax Haven Abuse Act” is restarting, including a focus on Delaware shell corporations. It’s unlikely that this will pass any time soon, but it’s still an encouraging development.

None of this would have much impact on the really big tax dodgers, like Apple and Google. But even here, things are moving. The era of untraceable and untaxable capital movements may come to an end sooner than we expect.

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Sunday photoblogging #5: cranes

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-05-18 03:00

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Big Love – Oh Brunhilda Edition

Crooked Timber - Sun, 2014-05-18 02:27

If you think there’s the slightest chance that you would enjoy a book about Maurice Noble, who designed the backgrounds for all your favorite Warner Brothers cartoons (and a bunch of other animated works you love), you should get The Noble Approach: Art and Designs of Maurice Noble [amazon].

Fun fact: “The design motifs for What’s Opera, Doc? were inspired in part by the Kimberly Crest mansion in Redlands, California. Maurice spent part of his childhood in Redlands and had admired the gardens as a boy. The Kimberly Crest motif found its way into a number of Maurice’s designs, including the “Dance of the Hours” sequence of Fantasia.”

Look at this photo. Total Chuck Jones, What’s Opera, Doc? scene, isn’t it? And this one? Total Witch Hazel house.

But what I’m really laughing about is that this Fleetwood Mac video for “Big Love” – which is, in my expert opinion, great! – is also partially filmed at the Kimberly Crest mansion. And the Fleetwood Mac song is basically about the same themes. Some sort of mash-up should be possible. “Big big love” while Bugs rides languidly on that horse. “House on a hill”, “only to fall”. It’s got it all. Now if we can only get Lindsey Buckingham and Stevie Nicks to sing in chorus: “Love like ours must be/Made for you and for me”.

Getting back to the book – it’s chock full of fascinating animation history, as well as practical art instruction. Example:

Mary [Blair] and I [were] what you call “a thing” at one time, but Lee Blair had a car and he beat me out. It was the Depression, and she and I were the poor church mice of the school. Mary and I had painting and design classes together. After painting class, children who had a lot of money would often throw away leftover tubes of paint. Then Mary and I would pick the stuff out of the trash bin. She also used to take the paper towels out of the washroom and paint on them. Mary and I used to do a lot of sketching together, meeting at different places, drawing each other, and painting with watercolors.

Incredible. The two greatest background painters/designers in the history of animation – these two masters of color – dumpster-diving together for half-empty tubes of paint.

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