Libertarians and the First Person Plural
November 08, 2011, 08:40 PM
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An Australian friend fisks a typical exercise in shaming:
Liberal economists on free-market auto-pilot.
Memo to Unions: White Australia was a bad idea
Chris Berg,
The Age 
So given the union movement`s historical culpability for the White Australia policy, you would think someone like Sheldon might be sensitive to the nuances of xenophobia. Labor-sympathetic historians in recent decades have tried to sheet the White Australia policy home to prejudice. Immigration restriction was, many post-1960s historians have claimed, simply the result of a racist zeitgeist. But the White Australia policy was led by a union movement trying to eliminate competition in the labour market. This is an awkward truth.
True enough. And the result was the highest wages in the world, very progressive welfare policies and unprecedented period of social peace, lasting from 1900 through to the seventies. So much so that pre-Vietnam War Australia was called "working man`s paradise". But apparently that is all a shameful dark history because there was no free trade or open borders.
The only serious opposition to White Australia came from pro-market thinkers - particularly the great free-trade MP Bruce Smith, who described the policy as ``racial prejudice``.
Not even him. He just wanted the nativists to tone down the rhetoric to mollify the sensitivities of higher caste members of the Empire or Sterling block. Wikipedia reports:
A few politicians spoke of the need to avoid hysterical treatment of the question. Member of Parliament Bruce Smith said he had "no desire to see low-class Indians, Chinamen or Japanese...swarming into this country... But there is obligation...not (to) unnecessarily offend the educated classes of those nations"[11]
Back to Berg:
In Australian history, racism has usually had an economic context. After all, why should it be a matter of urgent public policy that some jobs be kept within Australian borders? On what moral basis is limiting immigration to protect workers from competition a good thing, as was proposed by unions at the start of the financial crisis.
Perhaps because these men have families here whereas foreigners don`t. Someone has to look after them. The fact that baggage handlers can sometimes earn $80,000 pa (on overtime, night shift) is a cause of particular outrage. Imagine unskilled workers earning a good middle class income, The very idea!
Protectionism is bad for many reasons. It raises prices and lowers living standards - worrying enough. But its moral core is dark. Surely Australians are no more deserving of jobs than people from China, Japan or Singapore. Economic nationalism implies natives are worth more than foreigners. 
Yes, it does. Just as economic "corporation-ism" implies own company stock is worth more to their shareholders than it is to non-shareholders, with company policies crafted accordingly. And likewise economic familyism is justified, with family members getting a preferred share of the household assets, as opposed to some random guy in the street.
Steven Landsburg, an American professor of economics, asked recently: ``If it`s OK to enrich ourselves by denying foreigners the right to earn a living, why shouldn`t we enrich ourselves by invading peaceful countries and seizing their assets?`` Obviously the latter is wrong. The former is just as wrong.
Maybe because our borders are ours to control, and likewise for foreign countries who might object to invasion. That would seem to be the point of having countries. Landsburg seems to have difficulty with the first person plural.


Landsburg, of course, is a huge proponent of self-interest, including some forms of collective self-interest. He just doesn`t like some other people`s definitions of their own collective self-interest.

Coming up with answers to the question "Who Are We?" is fundamental to politics and to social life in general. My feeling is that a wide range of overlapping answers is, on the whole, a good thing. We should encourage reciprocation: I`ll tolerate your answers if you tolerate my answers. Those who demonize certain answers, such as Landsburg and Berg, apparently don`t believe in reciprocation, but feel they can advance the interests of those they consider "we" by shaming other people`s conceptions of "we." But any rational conception of "we" needs to include "my fellow citizens who, in the ultimate extremity (e.g., Australia in 1942), will fight for me and mine."