Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Revel in Your Abandon

OP here.

If you'll permit me the luxury of gross abstraction and generalization, there appear to be two classes of objections to receiving refugees. Call the first class "hardhearted" and the second class "softhearted."

Hardhearted objections owe their pedigree to what economists call "fiscal externalities," a term of art describing public policy choices that would impose costs on blameless third parties. Stereotypical examples of this include public education and medicine: the American public has decided to fund these important services through the public coffers, so anyone using these services is seen (rightly or wrongly) as a burden on the system. Contrast this with shopping at a grocery store, where the use of the service is simply called "being a customer." Or if you don't want a stretched analogy, if a refugee were to enroll their kids in a fully-private Catholic school and send them to get their vision fixed at a Lasik center, it's unlikely the hardhearted type objections would consider this to be a burden. Related hardhearted objections concern things like cultural or political effluvia, but these questions are a little beyond the scope of Durant's objection. I think his comment is more properly classified as a softhearted objection.

Softhearted objections rely on sympathetic moral intuitions. Refugees are already at probably the lowest point in their lives. Further burdening them with the duties and responsibilities of holding down a job, paying rent, and providing for the future of their children is uncharitable, even callous. You don't kick a man when he's down. You give him a hand up.

It can be challenging to reconcile these two types of objections. The presently fashionable "solution" in the Mediterranean seems to be "let their boats founder on the waves," which is pretty good at piling up the corpses of children, but seems to have done little to curb the flow of people fleeing violence and savagery. It might be better for the refugees if the voters of receiving countries could put aside their differences for a moment and agree that it would be better for these cold, desperate victims to have a place to stop running for a little while, even if it means they have to eventually earn their keep. Much as we might like, we can't simply wish (or vote, at least in the short term) away the hardhearted objections. The nasty alternative to paying rent to a Bryan Caplan is drowning. It's hard to see how that's much of an improvement.

It is in poor taste to wage cultural and political conflict on the backs of the world's most desperate people in the midst of their most dire circumstances.

nod to KE

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Do you have suggestions on where we could find more examples of this phenomenon?