Monday, July 5, 2010

the ethical emigrant

On a gut level, I really loathe the argument against expanding immigration (in this case specifically for skilled immigrants) that it will result in a brain drain for the poorer sending country, hurting that society by removing its top talent. Counter-arguments point to the role of remittances; the often temporary nature of the migration, as in the case of education; and possibly the value to the sending country of expanded networks and further global integration. But regardless of the economics, the argument bothers me because this should be the choice of the individual migrant, based on her own wholly personal motivations, whatever they may be. The idea that receiving nations would adjust their immigration policies based on such considerations is disturbing, the mirror image of the Berlin Wall.

And yet, from that individual's perspective, there are ethical considerations. One of the main reasons I support more open migration policies worldwide is because I like the idea of a world where people can vote with their feet, where they might travel the world not only for work or fancy but also to shop around for public goods jurisdictions to their liking. An aspiring migrant might want to leave a really bad situation, like a totalitarian regime. The enlightened emigrant's departure from a particularly benighted realm will make that realm marginally more benighted. Of course the negative effect on the country of one departing migrant would be minuscule compared to the benefits accruing to that migrant, but they shouldn't be discounted from an ethical calculation altogether. After all, the same argument could be made for any private, voluntary effort to correct for negative externalities or majoritarian ethical hiccups; doing what you can to reduce your greenhouse gas footprint in the absence of a price on carbon dioxide comes to mind.

I've been thinking of this because lately I've been in an uncharacteristically anti-American mood, almost certainly because I've been reading too much Glenn Greenwald. Really though, the American government in the last ten years has launched two aggressive wars, killed God Knows How Many innocent human beings in Predator drone strikes in foreign countries we're not even at war with (not that the USA has officially been 'at war' since WWII), locked up GKHM innocent human beings in cages without any kind of due process, tortured GKHM innocent human beings, and asserted the authority to assassinate American citizens, again, without due process. This is all sold as necessary to win a phantom conflict against an idea. And these abrogations of the rule of law join the police militarization, weakening of the Fourth Amendment, and racist horror resulting from our drug war (another war on a concept) that has resulted in America earning the dubious distinction of imprisoning more of its citizens, by both percentages and naked numbers, than any other nation.

While I realize that if I die in Canada, I'll die in real life, it does not seem unreasonable to consider getting up and leaving as an appropriate response. After all, I'd prefer to live in a place where the government, after determining an individual has been wrongfully caged and tortured for eight years, gives him an apology and a cool $8 million, rather than a place where the government does everything in its power to deny him his day in court.

Finding much of the American government's activities unconscionable, the eager young Enlightenment idealist might consider leaving its jurisdiction, only to remove her positive influence and have the vacuum filled with the likes of Sarah Palin and Barack Obama. On the other hand, from the cosmopolitan perspective, the important thing is only that the Open Society flourishes somewhere for its ideals to remain alive; in the end it doesn't matter if America succumbs to its worst demons. Well, it does matter for the people affected, which is why the ethical emigrant might consider sending back moral remittances, money sent back to liberal institutions fighting the good fight, like the ACLU.

Perhaps it's not a thorny question after all. I think in the end this post was just a vehicle for grievance airing.


  1. I hope it helps to get it out! <3

  2. If America falls so will the Open Society, as the U.S. is the only major political power whose existence and national myth is founded on Enlightenment ideals.

    In my opinion, if America were to fail here's what it would mean: the social contract that mediates the relationship between the diverse American peoples would dissolve (think about that for a moment), Europe would most likely return to its nationalist roots and there would be another global struggle for world dominance. The chaos and confusion would be so great worldwide that it would make the drone kills in Afghanistan look like an English tea party.