Wednesday, August 24, 2011

on the need for a cosmotarianism

Michael Clemens has reviewed the available literature and estimated the potential economic gains from removing barriers to international migration in a working paper titled "Economics and Emigration: Trillion Dollar Bills on the Sidewalk?" The money quote:
The gains from eliminating migration barriers dwarf—by an order of magnitude or two—the gains from eliminating other types of barriers. For the elimination of trade policy barriers and capital flow barriers, the estimated gains amount to less than a few percent of world GDP. For labor mobility barriers, the estimated gains are often in the range of 50–150 percent of world GDP.
This is a stupendous amount of wealth generated merely for doing the right thing and removing coercive barriers to freedom of movement. If a technical invention had similar effects, it would be lauded as revolutionary and the inventors would earn a page in the history books.

But the world lacks an adequate framework for receiving this big effing idea. Simply put, who cares? Which ideological group will take this information and bear its message in large fonts on their banners while chanting an annoying but difficult to forget rhyming couplet? Now, there are organizations, including the Center for Global Development, which employs Dr. Clem, and proud we are of all of them. But there are no movements.

This comes to mind perhaps because I'm currently reading a history of Communism by Archie Brown. Communism got many things catastrophically wrong but also got one thing right. Brown describes the "existence of, and sense of belonging to, an international Communist movement" to be a defining feature of Communism. The familiar motto was "Workers of the world, unite!" Communist doctrine did not do away with tribalism altogether, but it reoriented tribalism from the usual ties of blood and race and nation to the abstract economic concept of class. Class transcended ethnicity and national identity. Communists thought a worldwide utopia was possible (inevitable, actually) and worked toward it in their own misguided way. Seeing how powerful feelings of national loyalty often are, that's quite something. Communism had people out in the streets for global justice.

I lie awake at night fantasizing about a popular movement that combines the universalism of Communism with actual good ideas. My biases as they are, I think most of the good ideas are liberaltarian ideas. I think it's really important to realize all the nice things we've got here in the democratic, developed world, including massive wealth and health (by historical standards), civil quiet (the occasional London riot is something I think we can live with) and an ever-expanding plenitude of enriching options for our private lives. I say liberaltarian because the developed world is one largely designed by modern liberals and progressives, one of social safety nets, democratic government, and equal rights for women and minorities (in principle if not yet in fact). Libertarianism can provide necessary tweaks in the form of market-savvy solutions, a greater awareness of the public choice limitations of democracy, and civil liberties absolutism.

But the good ideas of liberals and libertarians too often stop at the border. At present, most discussions of policy pay attention to the effects on our neighbors only insofar as there will be repercussions back on us. To be America-centric for a moment, consider the 34,000 Mexicans who have died in the drug war, much (not all) of which can be laid at the feet of America's illiberal drug laws. The number gets very little traction in public discourse because they are dead Mexicans and not dead Americans. But Mexicans are human beings with passions, hopes, hobbies, and families who grieve at the loss of loved ones just as much as we do; this number should evoke roughly ten times the shock and horror of the 9/11 tragedy. Something similar can be said for the fatality statistics of our current wars. One hears the number of American soldiers slain more often than the number of Iraqis or Afghans, despite the latter being at least an order of magnitude more gruesome. Most of the gains Michael Clem has estimated will accrue to the migrants themselves and all by itself that is a powerful reason to get out of the way of their migration and their gains.

We should extend our awareness, our ethical considerations, and our utilitarian calculations to the globe. We should be not just liberaltarians but cosmotarians, and ask not What is good for our country? but instead What is good for humanity? Unfortunately this doesn't lend itself to catchy slogans. People of the world, unite!

No comments:

Post a Comment