The Logical Conclusion of Groupthink

by Don Boudreaux on April 26, 2013

in Books, Civil Society, Immigration

Paul Collier’s new book isn’t due out until October, and I’ve not seen an advanced copy of it.  My only knowledge of the book’s contents comes from this post at Marginal Revolution by Tyler.  Here, taken from Tyler’s blog post, is part of what appears on the book’s back cover (find it here):

…bestselling author Paul Collier makes a powerful case for the ethical legitimacy of restricting migration in the interests of both sending and receiving societies. Drawing on original research and numerous case studies, Collier explores this volatile issue from three unique perspectives: the migrants themselves, the people they leave behind, and the host societies where they relocate. As Collier shows, those who migrate from the poorest countries, primarily though not exclusive the young, tend to be the best educated and most energetic in their cultures. And while migrants often benefit economically, the larger impacts of mass migrations remain unsettling. The danger is that both host countries and sending societies may lose their national identities– an outcome that Collier suggests would be disastrous as national identity is a powerful force for equity. Collier asserts that migration must be restricted to ensure that it helps those who remain in sending countries and also benefits host societies that make the investment on which migrant gains rely.

If this back-cover description is remotely accurate, then in my estimation this book is an unequivocally fine monument to the unspeakable evil unleashed by groupthink.  It is a perfect testament to the evil fueled by nationalism – to the evil powered by anthropomorphizing collectives – to the evil born of the mental practice of aggregating thousands or millions of individuals into one lump, calling the imaginary lump a “nation,” and then cavalierly assuming that that lump has moral standing on par with – nay, superior to – that of flesh-and-blood men and women and children.

I’m not one to assert that any policy that I dislike, even if it’s a policy that was in fact pursued by the Nazis in the 1930s and ’40s, is evidence of 21st-century nascent Nazism.  But, oh my, I do indeed suspect that Herr Hitler would nod his hideous head in agreement were he to read, about immigration and emigration, in Mr. Collier’s book that

The danger is that both host countries and sending societies may lose their national identities– an outcome that Collier suggests would be disastrous as national identity is a powerful force for equity.

Mr. Collier (again, assuming that this back-cover description of his book’s argument is accurate) elevates the abstraction “nation” into a pretend reality that competes with real, breathing, thinking, choosing, acting, striving individuals for moral status.  For Mr. Collier, apparently, the interests of individuals – actual sentient human beings – can legitimately be sacrificed to promote the interest of the nation, which is actually only an aggregate abstraction.  ”National identities” (eekk!) are to be protected from the disruptive decisions made by lowly individuals on where each will live and work.  And, it seems, the only appropriate population to be used for assessing “equity” (whatever that might mean in this context) as it affects person A consists exclusively of people who ‘belong’ to the ‘same nation’ as that into which is born.

exists for the group.  exists for the aggregate (for which it’s often great good fun for intellectuals to theorize about and to collect statistics on).  does not exist for himself or herself.  Bourgeois notions of individualism are oh so, well, bourgeois.  Contemptible.  Silly.  Reflections of socially destructive selfishness.  Unscientific.  (“Have you seen what the data show happens to average wages when immigration rises?!”  ”Oh, do take a look at what the data reveal to be the consequences on median years of schooling in Ruritania when emigration from Ruritania rises.”)  Such individualist notions cannot possibly be correct or right, if for no reason other than that they were endorsed by (of all people!) Ayn Rand.

….

No concept has been responsible for more bloodshed and tyranny than has that of nationalism.  In its frightful name individuals have been restricted, restrained, regulated, subsidized, brainwashed, taxed, and sacrificed.  And let there be no mistake: nationalism that comes clothed as something more merciful or modern than Nazism is no less the evil because the garb it wears is superficially different from the garb worn in Germany 80 years ago by those who professed concern with protecting the “national identity.”  For evidence, look no further than the fact that Mr. Collier, it appears, is willing, for the purpose of preventing harm to something called “national identity,” to use force to prevent people – realactual people - from emigrating away from the jurisdictions of governments that these people obviously find oppressive.

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