the plan for the future
This first unit raises some basic questions about something that some see as prior to legal or political institutions, and which others see as a result of our particular legal and political institutions, that is, the political community.
Should we be allowed to change or to choose what political community we're a part of? If so, how easily? Should we have what are called open borders? What's the value of political community?
A question is what makes political communities distinct? What makes a community a political community? There're different features that we might identify, and several are particularly important. One of the most central is the idea that political institutions will often employ coercion or the threat of coercion. This makes them different than other kinds of communities. For this in particular, we need a greater moral justification than when we form other kinds of communities.
This way of thinking about political community focuses on the application of laws to particular individuals. It defines the community that way.
For example, everyone physically located in a particular jurisdiction has to obey the traffic laws, but not everyone physically located in that same jurisdiction has to pay income tax. There's a question about how to think about political community in a situation like that.
There's a distinction between a descriptive and a normative application question. The descriptive question is who is the law in fact applied to? The normative question is, who is the law justifiably or morally appropriately applied to? We can define political communities either descriptively or normatively.
All of this suggests, we might imagine situations in which membership in a political community, is something that comes in degrees. Where how fully one is a member of a political community, is determined by how many of the following boxes, so to speak, one can check off. So here are for example, some of the descriptive factors we might consider in assessing whether or not some person is a member of a political community.
These are the descriptive factors we could look to, to see and identify whether somebody's a part of a political community, and we can imagine views in which all of these are required to be a full member of the political community, or in which just some of these are required. Then there'd be normative versions of all of these, that this particular person ought to have this particular right, or ought to be required to do that particular thing.
This is an abstract discussion. Not much is said about how a particular person feels about any of this. One sense of political community that's pretty natural for people to think about includes something like self identification or feelings of allegiance, loyalty or commitment, or a shared history in some sense or mutual trust. A related sense includes something like larger group acceptance of the individual. So you are a member of the political community if everybody in that community thinks so.
We can offer accounts of the definition of political community that include more or less of these elements. These elements are called conditions of application of laws, so the ways in which the laws apply to people, conditions of rights of creation of laws, so whether you have a right or some sense the current power to be a part of creating the laws, and conditions of identification with the political system. All of these can be sort of more or less descriptive or more or less normative.
The idea is familiar from contractarian traditions dating all the way back to Hugo Grotius and Thomas Hobbes. It states that we're in a political community together because we have all consented or agreed to be part of that community, signing or endorsing something that we might call a social contract. Hugo Grotius, who was born in 1583 and died in 1645, was an important early Dutch legal and political philosopher. He wrote, among other things, a book titled On The Law of War and Peace, which was originally published in 1625.
There are problems with this picture however. So let's assume that generally speaking we're morally free to do as we like, to find our own meaning and joy, and to live a life that accords with our findings. There're going to be constraints on this freedom. If someone's badly injured or in great peril, one's not morally free to ignore his plight if one could easily help him, and one's not always free to pursue projects that harm others. But leaving aside these constraints and complications, it's natural to think that we're fundamentally autonomous creatures. Liberty is our appropriate condition.
When someone asserts that we're fundamentally autonomous creatures, we don't need to be suggesting that we're solitary or individualistic creatures, or that we could survive in a satisfying way on our own. Most of us tend to find that an enjoyable and rewarding life includes other people. The point is just that we're morally free to socialise as we like. With the possible complicated exception of family, we're free morally to associate with, love, befriend, work with whomever we choose, assuming that they choose us as well.
Most relevantly for our purposes we're free to enlist others in our projects and to engage in joint projects with other people. So, imagine several of us might choose to work together on a project. If all these others freely consent to participate, there's no moral objection to us working together. This is a consent based idea as to forming communities working together toward some end. We might even decide as a group that we all want to work together on some project, even when we know we don't all agree on the details, and that when we don't all agree we're going to act in the way that the majority favours.
Assuming that all members of this group agree, there doesn't seem to be any moral objection to acting in this way, and there doesn't seem to be an objection to holding, at least in a reasonable way, those members of the group who are in the minority on some issue, bound to the project. So you lose a vote about what to do but you made this agreement to work together and you made an agreement to keep working together even if you lose the vote. So when you lose, you should, you have a moral obligation to keep working together, in the same way that there's typically no moral objection to holding people to what they've agreed to do.
For example, one does not consent to being robbed or otherwise. If one is only given the choice, your money or your life, we can't infer from the fact that this person gave his or her money that he or she consented to giving the money. The way in which we stay in political communities might be more like that. So that's an initial worry for the view that political legitimacy requires as a kind of necessary condition, the consent of the governed.
Leaving aside the debates about legitimacy, there remain the questions of whether we should embrace a conception of political community that requires that political communities be voluntarily joined. So here are some initial concerns. One concern is about how voluntary this joining can really be. So what one prefers and what one will agree to is going to depend on one's options.
It might be that there are no better options. Perhaps one joins this political community, only because all the other ones are all very inconvenient, or morally terrible, or because one is already, in some sense, a part of that community, so that it would be very costly to leave, to go somewhere else. Perhaps one's ties are to the people around there, and one's occupation, and language, and house, and land, and all these things connect one to this community. Perhaps one feels compelled to join some community or other as to prevent living in an isolated or state of nature way. So these are ways in which one might suggest that there might be at most degrees of voluntariness.
Indeed, most political allegiance, and social and political identity is inculcated in children at relatively young ages. Think of pledges of allegiance that children might recite in schools. We can of course push back against this when we're older, but both how and why and whether we do this, whether we think about and reflect on and maybe question the political community we are born into, will itself be a function of the forces that have shaped us.
Again, there's a question of what's special about voluntary communities. People often suggest humans have a kind of moral standing that's important that they're voluntarily entered into. And then there's going to be a question about whatever is special about them will be present even in cases like these, where we see only something like relative degrees of voluntariness. Finally, there's the question, not of the possibility of voluntary choice, but of the desirability of voluntary choice as the basis for political community.
So when is it going to be appropriate to leave a political community, for what kinds of reasons and under what kinds of conditions? In particular should we make this as easy as possible? From a voluntaristic perspective, it's natural to say yes, we want this to be up to the individual.
A second issue with the voluntaristic picture stems from concerns about diversity and difference. So in short, the worry is that voluntaristic political communities, will end up be populated by like minded individuals, and individuals who share certain salient characteristics, beliefs, or values.
A second concern stems from concerns about inter-generational difference. So how do we think about the development of individual autonomy, under conditions of widespread homogeneity? So if someone happens to develop divergent views, then very homogeneous political communities make it so that an individual would have to give up all or most ties. A concern related to this is, what if, for practical reasons, there's going to be imperfect sorting, so that there are some with the divergent views that are essentially permanent losers or permanent minority groups in politics? None of these concerns are insurmountable difficulties, but they are important questions to consider.
The voluntarist picture has certain attractions, although there are also concerns. In particular, there might be a tension between voluntarism for adults and community diversity, and this in turn might lead to a tension between voluntarism for adults and a robust autonomy development for children raised in homogeneous communities.
He's focused on the concept of an electoral constituency, which is the group in which a citizen's vote is counted for the purpose of electing a political representative. This is focusing on the political community with respect to the creation of law through elected representatives. He notes that in almost every democracy in the world, citizens are represented by where they live.
As he puts it, the use of territory to define electoral constituencies persisted as a habit of mind, a historical remnant no longer serving its original purpose of representing communities of interest, but so ingrained that it was never seriously challenged. Rehfeld's book is an attempt to challenge this use of territorial districts. He identifies three different dimensions of constituencies. The first is homogeneity, the second is stability, and the third is voluntariness.
Rehfeld's suggestion is that representatives coming from homogeneous districts will have little incentive to consider the national interest. This might also result in a heightened polarisation and unwillingness to pursue political compromise with representatives from different districts. This happens in the United States as a result of what are called gerrymandered geographic districts, which are districts that are drawn so as to be relatively noncompetitive from a political point of view. The resulting kind of homogeneity might lead to polarisation.
Rehfeld argues that if we're going to have elected representatives, stability of the constituency is very important sent, since this is the mechanism that's going to be key for electoral accountability to work. So as he puts it, for a political representative to be accountable to those whom they represent, they must stand for reelection before the same group of individuals who elected them at the start of their term.
That might be a small overstatement, but it's certainly important that there won't be too much difference between subsequent elections. If there's too much difference, then there is no real accountability. If the group entirely changed then it won't be the same people evaluating what that representative has done and trying to make assessments about whether it was in their interest or whether the person did a good job or not.
Rehfeld argues for randomised, national, permanent constituencies that would be heterogeneous, stable, and involuntary. The argument to this conclusion is subtle and relies on views about the purpose and the morality of political representation. He sets out an alternative to either simple territorial districting with some modest amount of voluntary community since people can enter and exit or something more explicitly and extensively voluntaristic. He argues against either of those two methods.
In his alternative, if there were 435 seats to be filled, as there are with with the United States House of Representatives, each person in the United States would draw a random number between 1 and 435, and be assigned to a permanent randomly generated electoral constituency. Everyone would be given a number. If I get number 326 then I'd be in the district with all the other people in the country who drew the number 326. Within a city like Renton, Washington, where there're about 90,000 people, there would be people within that city belonging to all 435 different federal congressional districts, with about 150 to 200 people from each district.
He envisions these as permanent communities that you'd be assigned to, so you'd always be in district 326. Rehfeld envisions campaigning and communication with people who are all in a district together happening online in various ways since it would no longer makes sense to put up television ads in a particular geographic community or to put signs out along particular roads or to hold town meetings in a particular town. He thinks this is possible in the 21st century. We could come up with ways of doing it.
A national legislature should be structured so as to think about and act in the national interest. So if people living in New York and the people living in Texas are concerned with very different things, then we might not get a national legislature thinking about the national interest if representatives are primarily be thinking about the interests of their constituents.
One view of how representatives should behave is that they should think just about the interests of the nation, but many plausible views state that they need to think also a lot about what their constituents want and what would be best for them. Representatives from New York and Texas might come into conflict. In Rehfeld's system, then a representative thinking about his or her constituents' interests will be thinking about the national interests since his or her constituents are simply a microcosm of the whole nation. At the same time the constituents are all able to monitor their particular representative to see what she's doing.
What is interesting is the question that Rehfeld really wants us to think about. Why just default into territorial districts and territorial political communities? That might have been required at a time when movement and long distance communication was practically very difficult and when there were strong regional identities and distinct interests. It's not obvious that we're living in such a time today, or at least not for every kind of nation or political community.
Another strong point in favour of territorial political communities comes from thinking about how laws are enforced and the difficulty of having people living in the same geographic space, but under different laws or legal systems. It might be much harder in terms of legal applications through courts and police, to have non-territorial political communities for both the creation and the application of laws so that you and your neighbour might be governed by, say, a different set of criminal laws.
In his book Cosmopolitanism, Ethics in a World of Strangers, Appiah notes that there are two strands that intertwine in the notion of cosmopolitanism. One is the idea that we have obligations to others that stretch beyond those to whom we are related by the ties of kith and kind or even the more formal ties of a shared citizenship.
This might reduce some concerns about accumulation of power and it would make it more likely that local member states would be responsive to local needs and capable of engaging in various forms of political experimentation. Obviously there'd questions about how votes would be distributed. One way would be to just do a popular vote of the whole world. A very different way would be to give each nation-state essentially a vote. Then we'd worry a lot about sort of imbalance and size. These are all questions of design and implementation.
One reason to take the idea seriously is that our current international order can look very problematic in different ways. First, as many have pointed out, our current system of interlocking, interdependent nation states means that a few of the largest and most powerful nation states, dominate the international agreements and international organisations that do exist. This is a big problem because of the actions of these large nation states like the United States, China, India, Russia, have profound effects on the rest of the world. Even when we get international agreements they're often structured through the interests of these individual countries.
The philosopher Robert Goodin at the Australian National University has argued that all people whose interests are affected, or possibly affected by a political decision, should be taken in to account by that political institution. They should have some say or some role in determining the course of that decision. He develops ideas suggested by the political theorist Robert Dahl. Goodin ends up considering a world state as one way of actually living up to what he sees as this poor democratic principle of enfranchising all affected interests.
Another concern that has moral implications is that many problems we now face are really global collective action problems, for example climate change, terrorism, the proliferation of nuclear arms, economic exploitation, material inequality and health epidemics. These are the kinds of problems that a state might be capable of helping us to address, but to do that, there needs to be global coordination and cooperation. Our current system allows far too much free riding and self interested depletion of shared resources and does far to little in the way of taking care of the global commons and providing and ensuring the existence of global public good.
A different concern about political cosmopolitanism or a world-state is raised by those who argue that a key part of the political community has to do with strong attitudes of identification on the part of citizens and political community. Some suggested these attitudes would be impossible to have or to maintain with a world state. People wouldn't feel the right kind of loyalty and commitment to this state to really keep it going. Some suggest that it's important for these attitudes that there be at least some soft national rivalries, and that there are mechanisms by which some individuals are intentionally included in the political community and in some cases mechanisms by which others are excluded. If we had a world-state then we'd lose this.
Professor Guerrero thinks these are big concerns. So it seems at least possible that we would come to have these kinds of attitudes of identification with the world state, particularly if the creation of that world-state is seen as a great accomplishment off all so that we could all take pride in it, or if we saw the world state as vital part of a solution to significant world problems that threaten all of us. So we might come to have positive attitudes and identification with a world state, even if we also kept some attitudes of pride and identification in local institutions and differences such as culture, language, cuisine, art, and religion.
It's unclear whether there will ever be anything like a real world government or a global state and it's unclear whether it'd be a good thing or a disaster. At any rate it's very likely to be a very far off thing if it ever does come to exist. So recently many have made the case for something that has some of these elements of the cosmopolitan spirit behind world government, but which is often defended on very different grounds, and ends up looking pretty different. The idea is that within the context of our interlocking nation-state organisations, there should be unrestricted immigration. We should have, in other words, worldwide open borders. The case for open borders runs into what other see is the legitimate right, of existing political communities to exclude others from entry.
We now live in a world in which almost all land is under the jurisdiction of some political entity, usually a nation state. Furthermore, we live in a world with sharp rules set by these individual nation states regarding who can enter a country, who can immigrate there, staying permanently, who can come to work there, perhaps staying only for a period of time, and in some cases, who can leave, who can emigrate or travel abroad and for how long. The World Bank estimates that in 2010 there were a total of 216 million immigrants that have moved permanently from one country to another in their lifetime. This is 3.2% of the world's population.
It's plausible that there's a general human right to freedom of movement. We might put the point by saying that the proper default is that we're allowed to move and go where we like. Importantly, however, it also seems plausible that this right is not absolute. So, we're not allowed to simply walk or run over someone who's literally in our path. We don't have freedom of movement just anywhere.
There're different justifications for property rights in general and for each of these rights in the bundle that might be included. Many of these justifications focus on the economic benefits and incentives from private property, the potential to reduce overuse or depletion of resources, and the possibility of individual long-term planning.
Marvin is in desperate need of food. Perhaps someone has stolen his food, or perhaps a natural disaster destroyed his crops. Whatever the reason, Marvin is in danger of starvation. Fortunately, he has a plan to remedy the problem. He's going to walk to the local marketplace, where he will buy bread.
Then he asks us the following questions. What is the proper assessment of Sam's action? Did Sam harm Marvin? Did he violate Marvin's rights? Was Sam's action wrong?
Huemer points out that this isn't a case of someone standing idly by and allowing someone to suffer or to die. Maybe Sam could be said to do that if he simply refused to give Marvin food, but what Sam does is very different than that. He actively and forcibly intervenes to prevent Marvin from getting to the food. Huemer claims that Sam's act was both coercive and that it violated Marvin's rights not to be subject to extremely harmful coercion.
The role of Sam is played by the government of the United States, which has adopted severe restrictions on entry. These restrictions are imposed by coercion. Armed guards are hired to patrol the borders, physically barring unauthorised entry, and armed officers of the state forcibly detain and expel immigrants who are found residing in the country illegally.
This song's been sung by all kinds of people advocating for all kinds of policies. Here is that this kind of idea that has seeped into many of our minds and that there's songs like this everywhere for everyone's country. We come to have national cultures and national pride. We learn about these things as we're growing up. We learn to think in these terms. This is is who we are, this is what we're like, and this is what we stand.
The second idea is to introduce the idea of a right to collective self-determination, which is the idea a national community has a right to self-govern, and then to argue that this right includes the right to restrict membership and participation in that community.
The first idea, which we can call the cultural preservation argument, consists of three distinct claims. The first claim is the existence claim. There is a national culture, a set of national cultural traditions and values in some non-trivial sense. The second claim is the threat claim. Unrestricted immigration poses a threat to that national culture. The third claim is the justification claim. Preserving our national culture is an adequate moral justification for restricting immigration.
First, it's not obvious what the national culture in a place like the United States would be. There're certainly some elements that are more present in places in the United States than elsewhere, but in the modern interconnected global world, there's also quite a lot of mixing and blending of art and music, language, food, religion, and other aspects of culture. We both export a lot in the way of culture and import a lot in the way of culture. Technology has made it much harder for there to be sort of walls in place, separating nations and cultures in a way that might have been sort of more the case 1,000 years ago or more.
With regard to the second claim, assuming there is a national culture, it's not clear how unrestricted immigration poses a threat to the national culture. For one thing, immigrants, people who arrive, often assimilate to the local culture and their children certainly do. So if the culture is already quite multicultural and cosmopolitan like in the United States, then it's going to be hard to see how adding more immigrants will threaten that culture, rather than add to it or strengthen it. People often say of the United States that it is a culture of immigrants. That's becoming more true around the world for a lot of places.
But even if we want to grant that there's a national culture and then grant that there's a threat posed by unrestricted immigration, a threat to that national culture, it's still very hard to imagine that the last claim could be true, that this provides an adequate moral justification for restricting immigration. Culture is, of course, of great value, but there's no suggestion in this argument that immigration will eliminate culture. At the very most, it will change it, but that's not a great harm. Whatever this kind of harm to the existing national culture, it's certainly not such a great harm that it would justify the extremely harmful coercion that immigration restrictions constitute, or at least it's hard to see how that argument would go.
There're several different arguments that rely on the idea that people living in a country have a special kind of standing. Some of these suggest that the current members of a national group have a right to political self determination, and that this right includes the right to close the country's borders or to limit entry. Michael Walzer and Kit Wellman have made arguments in this spirit.
Some have suggested that whatever demos we start with, we're going to have to have a right to determine who can join the group and even who can enter the territory that's democratically controlled by the group. These arguments all point to a right that we have, if we have such a right as a group. One objection to this argument is that this right would have to be a moral right. Currently in the United States there is a legal right to impose immigration restrictions under US law, but that doesn't serve to morally justify this legal right.
So, thinking about the individual case, I certainly might have a right not to have to spend time with you, some particular person, if I find that person annoying or even if I just find them boring. So we have freedom of association rights. And I certainly have a right not to have my fortunes tied to yours, say by sort of merging our bank accounts or having us get married without my consenting to this.
It's not clear that rights of this personal kind would extend to a very large group like a nation state. We can't just force some people upon a specific nation state community. One suggestion is that even if there are rights of this kind, they would be relatively weak, and they might well be overridden by the seemingly much weightier rights of others to move freely, particularly when moving freely would prevent them from great harm. When we think about how big a group a country actually is, and how small a role most of us play in becoming members of the country in which we are citizens, mostly we just happen to be born there, or our families moved us there, it's going to be hard to see a very robust right to keep the group just the way it is.
It's at least plausible that democratic principles concerning having a say in the creation of laws that have a great effect on others, would motivate expanding the relevant group of people who should have a say, to include those who are affected by immigration restrictions. Michael Humer talks about arguments regarding collective self determination and thinks that a nation state is like a private club, such as a study club, that decides to exclude unwanted members. He points out that nation states are unlike private clubs because everyone has to be a citizen of at least one country. Another significant difference, is that nation states provide extremely important services. So it's not just like getting to study with some other people.
Some states are much better than others, so that it has huge effects on a person's overall life what state he or she happens to belong to. This places a much more significant burden on those arguing that it's permissible to exclude people. Some think that the collective self determination argument can meet this burden when it's paired with the argument that immigration restrictions are going to be justified on economic grounds, as a way of protecting the employment and economic opportunities of the current members of the nation state.
Some people say that we as a collective have an obligation in some cases to pass policies that will benefit us, and that one way that we get this kind of benefit is through having immigration restrictions that make it easier for us to have jobs, or make our jobs better in various ways. Often there are complaints like the immigrants will take away our jobs, or the immigrants will reduce our wages. Although these kinds of objections are common, they seem to be profoundly confused, at least according to the economists who study the issue.
They found that full deportation reduces the gross domestic product, and that the other two options would increase the gross domestic product. The deportation policy would reduce GDP by 0.61%. Legalisation with increased border control would increase it by 0.17%. Legalisation without any border control would increase it the most by 0.53%. There's some controversy with respect to some of these issues, but not with respect to the overall effect on the economy. Overwhelmingly economists think that immigration would benefit the economy.
Harvard Economist Lant Prichett has calculated that world wide open borders would increase the world GDP by $65 trillion. This would effectively double world GDP. Some estimates state that it would triple world GDP. The studies are quite remarkable but also somewhat complex and they rely on a lot of assumptions as every paper in economics does.
The basic reasons that immigration is thought to make everyone better economically is that, although some workers may see reduced wages, certainly in the short term, as there's more competition in the market and a greater supply of workers, these reductions are offset. In particular, firms are able to pass on lower prices to consumers, which we all benefit from, since these companies are able to pay less for the cost of production. There will be an increased demand for various goods and services as the poorest in the world become able to buy and consume more. So at least in a sort of economic prospective, open borders seems beneficial, and a lot of the benefits will get passed on in a dispersed way.
When confronted about my seemingly unacceptable conduct, I explain that my action was necessary to protect myself against Bob's taking the job that I would otherwise have, or my being forced to accept a lower salary in order to get the job.
If my need for the job in question were very much greater than Bob's need, then some might argue that I would be justified in overriding Bob's rights. We need not decide exactly when a right may be overridden, nor whether a greater economic need could constitute an adequate basis for overriding a competitor's right to be free from harmful coercion; we need not decide these things here, because we can simply stipulate that Bob has at least as much need for the job for which we are competing as I do.
One of the main arguments in favour of open borders is a luck egalitarian idea, or in some views a justice related idea, that our life chances shouldn't be dramatically different, simply as a result of luck with respect to our starting points.
We might, for example, support measures that improve the situation of people everywhere, so that the gap between the richest and poorest countries becomes much smaller and there wouldn't be those incentives that people have to leave like they have now. In reality we're very far from that result. And it's asking a lot of those who would really benefit from moving to wait for the whole world to improve.
Here we can pursue a sort of more libertarian idea. Kearns' writings offer another kind of argument. Suppose a farmer from the United States wanted to hire workers from Mexico. The government would have no right to prohibit him from doing this. To prevent the Mexicans from coming would violate the rights both of the American farmer and the Mexican worker to engage in voluntary transactions.
There might be some justification for this, in the way that there's justification for private property rights, which similarly limit our freedom, but the justification in the case of immigration restrictions is not obvious. Economics does not provide support for such an argument.
Another argument for open borders is that democratic considerations require that states cannot adopt restrictive immigration policies unless they give the people who would be excluded a say in whether or not to use restrictive immigration policies. This might be another way we'd get to open borders, because people affected in this way probably wouldn't vote in favour of the immigration restrictions.
Finally, there is an argument for open borders if we just consider the utility or the benefits that people around the world would get from such a policy. Of course it's impossible to know exactly what would happen. One concern is that some people in those countries would benefit significantly, maybe those with the resources or talents to leave, and that those people would go to the places that would be better for them. There's a worry that the people who are left behind are worse off as some kind of brain drain takes place.
Whether this would happen or not is hard to know and there might be some responses that could be made. A lot of people study these effects even now. There's some evidence that the countries from which people leave benefit greatly as well as people either return, they go somewhere for ten years and then come back, or they send money or other resources to their former homes or to family that remain in the country that they left. But, if the economists are even close to correct about the huge benefits, with respect to worldwide GDP, productivity, and innovation, open Borders would make the world much better off from a material point of view.