Brian Caplan Jumps the Shark
Tell Me the Difference Between Jim Crow and Immigration Restrictions
Under the Jim Crow laws, discrimination was not merely legal. It was mandatory. It was illegal for blacks to live, work, and shop in certain places. Virtually everyone today regards this as an enormous injustice. So do I. But I question the claim that modern American policy is vastly morally superior. The American government continues to mandate discrimination against an unpopular minority: illegal immigrants. And this mandatory discrimination is far harsher than anything under Jim Crow.
1. Under Jim Crow, there were many places in America where blacks were not legally allowed to live. Under current immigration laws, there is nowhere in America where illegal immigrants are legally allowed to live.
2. Under Jim Crow, there were many jobs in America that blacks were not legally allowed to perform. Under current immigration laws, there are no jobs in America that illegal immigrants are legally allowed to perform.
Admittedly, immigration restrictions are not worse than Jim Crow in every possible way. Most notably:
1. Illegal immigrants face fewer restrictions on travel. De facto, though not de jure, illegal immigrants are free to use any form of transportation that doesn't require identification; they can ride trains but not planes. Under the Jim Crow laws, blacks were unable to use many forms of transportation either de jure or de facto.
2. The children of illegal immigrants face fewer restrictions on attending public school.
3. The Tuskegee Institute estimated that 3,446 blacks were lynched between 1882 and 1968 - about 40 per year. The FBI reported 681 hate crimes against Hispanics in 2010, but only one of these was a murder. Lest we feel too superior, note that according to conservative estimates, several hundred immigrants die crossing the border every year.
The Jim Crow laws were awful. Still, if you had to suffer under Jim Crow or modern immigration laws, Jim Crow seems like the lesser evil.
You could object that our moral obligations to citizens are far higher than our moral obligations to foreigners. But that's hardly satisfactory. After all, the essence of the segregationist position was the American blacks were not fully-fledged American citizens. Imagine that instead of abolishing Jim Crow laws, the American public had resolved its cognitive dissonance by simultaneously (a) stripping blacks of their citizenship, and (b) declaring that "All citizens are entitled to equal treatment." Would that have made the Jim Crow laws any less reprehensible?
Another possibility: You could say that the treatment illegal immigrants receive is an appropriate punishment for their law-breaking. This position would be plausible if legal immigration were easy. But for the typical low-skilled immigrant, legal immigration is virtually impossible. The U.S. makes it illegal for most foreigners to live and work here no matter what they do. So how does the treatment they receive in any way fit their "crime"?
But perhaps I'm overlooking some crucial distinction. So tell me: What is the moral difference between Jim Crow and immigration restrictions?
My Beautiful Bubble
Unlike many readers of Coming Apart, you don't have to convince me that I live in a Bubble. I've known it for decades. In fact, I think my 3-out-of-20 score on the "How Thick Is Your Bubble?" quiz greatly overstates my integration into American society. I live in a Bubble Within a Bubble.
You might even call it my Imaginary Charter City. I'm not just surrounded by Ph.D.s; I'm surrounded by libertarian economics Ph.D.s. I'm not just unfamiliar with NASCAR; I forget the very existence of professional sports for months at a time. I don't just watch shows for yuppies; I manage my entertainment to make sure that I never hear a commercial. In my world, Alex Tabarrok is more important than Barack Obama, Robin Hanson is more important than Paul Krugman, and the late Gary Gygax is more important than Jeremy Lin... whoever that might be.
Unlike most American elites, I don't feel the least bit bad about living in a Bubble. I share none of their egalitarian or nationalist scruples. Indeed, I've wanted to live in a Bubble for as long as I can remember. Since childhood, I've struggled to psychologically and socially wall myself off from "my" society. At 40, I can fairly say, "Mission accomplished."
Why put so much distance between myself and the outside world? Because despite my legendary optimism, I find my society unacceptable. It is dreary, insipid, ugly, boring, wrong, and wicked. Trying to reform it is largely futile; as the Smiths tell us, "The world won't listen." Instead, I pursue the strategy that actually works: Making my small corner of the world beautiful in my eyes. If you ever meet my children or see my office, you'll know what I mean.
I'm hardly autarchic. I import almost everything I consume from the outside world. Indeed, I frequently leave the security of my Bubble to walk the earth. But I do so as a tourist. Like a truffle pig, I hunt for the best that "my" society has to offer. I partake. Then I go back to my Bubble and tell myself, "America's a nice place to visit, but you wouldn't want to live there."
Many people will find my attitude repugnant. They shouldn't. Yes, I step to the beat of my own drummer. But I'm not trying to push my lifestyle on others. I don't pester people who identify with America as it is. Indeed, I wish outsiders the best of luck. My only request: If you're not happy with your world, don't try to pop my beautiful Bubble. Either fix your world, or get to work and make a beautiful Bubble of your own.
If it makes you feel better, it's not just leftist academic wierdoes that have crazy idea like aborting newbornes. Libertarian nerd academics have crazy ideas too.