Glen Whitman at Agoraphilia blogs about the logical maneuvering behind a popular anti-immigration argument. The argument– we've all heard it before– posits that, faced with rapid immigration, America's social welfare system would start to collapse under its own weight. In other words, there's a fixed pie, and there's simply not enough to go around.

    Whitman (via Julian Sanchez) points out a dangerous assumption in the above argument: that we assume a social welfare system exactly like the one we currently have. If political institutions are fixed from the outset, change of any sort is going to be tough. So what causes people to assume political fixity? It's a case of backward induction, Whitman argues. People in intellectual circles often deal with questions of moral personhood first and then move on to political questions about rights, statuses, and entitlements. But the vast majority of people often get it upside-down: answering political questions first and then drawing up conclusions of moral worth in response to these answers.

    This backward induction leads to an interesting paradox. We want to retain our well-intentioned and noble welfare state, so we assume a whole raft of rights to which people (though we haven't touched on the important matter of defining these people) are entitled. From here though, budgetary limitations, etc. (what a brilliant professor of mine has referred to as "the funkiness of life") often force us to make rather inhumane judgements such as "close off the borders."

    Whitman leaves us with a powerful closing thought:

"If we wish to encourage people to regard other moral beings as equals and not enemies, we should favor social systems that foster cooperation rather than creating conflicts of interest."

Daniel Corbett

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