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Quotation of the Day…

… is from page 226 of James Buchanan‘s 1979 collection What Should Economists Do? (H. Geoffrey Brennan & Robert D. Tollison, eds); specifically, it’s from Buchanan’s May 1978 American Economic Review paper, “Markets, States, and the Extent of Morals”:

My colleague [Gordon] Tullock enjoys asking egalitarians whether or not they would extend their precepts for social justice to the people of Bangladesh. He gets few satisfactory answers. Why should precepts for distributive justice mysteriously stop at the precise boundaries of the nation-state’? If one responds that they need not do so, that national boundaries are arbitrary products of history, then one is led to ask whether or not effective precepts of justice might stop short of such inclusive community, whether or not the moral-ethical limit for most persons is reached short of the size of modern nations.

DBx: Note that Buchanan is here talking about a level of concern and caring that each of us has for others beyond the respect that civilized individuals accord to every peaceful person on earth.

Especially when the topic is immigration, I often encounter the assertion that it’s unrealistic or fanciful to expect we Americans to care about non-Americans as much as we care about our fellow Americans. Perhaps this assertion is correct, but – if it is correct – it’s an artifact of our modern habit of thinking of the nation-state as akin to a giant family (pun not intended). In reality, of course, the nation-state is no such thing. Personally, my ethical regard for each of the 300-plus million Americans whom I’ve never met is no different from my ethical regard for each of the 7-plus billion non-Americans whom I’ve never met. Nothing in philosophy, ethics, or economics as much as hints at me that the well-being of a stranger (to me) in Birmingham, Alabama, is more or less important than is the well-being of a stranger (to me) in Birmingham, England, or a stranger (to me) in Bogotá, Colombia.

And for the record: my acknowledging that I accord the same amount of respect and concern to all peaceful people who are strangers to me regardless of their nationalities does not mean that I care about non-Americans more than I care about Americans. The fact that I find it worthwhile to take the time to write this paragraph signals a sad reality: many anti-immigrationists (and protectionists) lose their ability to perform even the most elementary feats of logic when they argue in support of their restrictionist positions. The cases for liberalized immigration and for free trade are not premised on the proposition that foreigners’ welfare is more important than that of fellow citizens. The classical-liberal premise, which I share, is always that every peaceful human being is of equal moral worth. (And, moreover, even for hyper-nationalists who sincerely do care only for the well-being of their fellow citizens and nothing at all for the well-being of foreigners, the economic case for liberalized immigration and free trade still holds, for this case shows that these policies increase the welfare of fellow citizens.)


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