Monthly Archives: December 2015

Media tropes on immigration obscure legitimate debate about trade-offs

We know, you could substitute virtually any issue for “immigration” in the title and the story would be valid.  But the mainstream media’s (and Republican establishment media’s) desperation in trying to stop Donald Trump have brought out the worst in our discourse.

The Washington Post cites a couple of legal scholars in the first few paragraphs of an article headlined “Experts: Trump’s Muslim entry ban idea ‘ridiculous,’ ‘unconstitutional,'” but then—in a juxtaposition certainly worthy of James Taranto’s “Two papers in one!” meme—adds, well, actually, it wouldn’t be unconstitutional:

Barring Muslims who are not U.S. citizens from entering the country may not violate U.S. law in the same way, the experts said, because the Constitution’s protections generally do not apply to people outside the nation’s borders.

Duh.

The Post article then cites a partial precedent, the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which was not found unconstitutional.  The article also repeatedly refers to “principles of international law and agreements the U.S. has signed with other nations” without specifying any of them.  One critic asserts, “I’m sure it would violate innumerable treaties if we suddenly started banning citizens of NATO countries, of Southeast Asian countries.”  Tell that to a Turk or Thai who has been denied a visa despite their countries’ close alliances with the U.S.

A point that the article, and most like it, fail to make is that the U.S., like any sovereign nation, has the right to grant or deny a visa to any individual, for any reason at all, and also to deny entry to anyone attempting to travel to the U.S., including those from countries whose nationals do not require a visa.

Meanwhile, Ben Shapiro, writing in The Daily Wire, brings out various straw-man arguments about American military members (which he rightly corrects in a later update clarifying that Trump was not referring to barring citizens) in characterizing Trump’s stance as “desperate.”  Um, Mr. Shapiro, Trump is leading in the polls, and his support has only increased since he called for more scrutiny of Muslims attempting to immigrate to the U.S.  The idea of trying to ban all Muslim immigration has wide support in polls.  Trump has made a policy proposal from a position of strength, not desperation.

Donald Trump did not call all Muslims terrorists.  He did not call for a database of Muslims living in the U.S., as the media was quick to accuse him after he didn’t forcefully reject a reporter’s suggestion to that effect.  Banning Muslim visitors is not at all like the internment of American citizens of Japanese and other origins in Axis countries during World War II, a comparison that the media has been quick to breathlessly make.

Attempting to ban all Muslim immigrants may or may not be a good idea.  It may or may not violate various treaties.  It would likely harm America’s standing in the world, victimize innocent people, and, above all, not be practical to implement.

However, none of these is reason to dismiss the merit of the proposal out of hand.  It wouldn’t be that difficult to bar foreigners who are obviously Muslim (Muslims often have names identifying them as such, as many countries list religion on their passports), who come from predominantly Muslim countries, and/or whose passports show visits to Syria, or Iraq, or Turkey (the gateway to ISIS-controlled territory).  Obviously such a ban would not catch everyone who is a threat.  We are not necessarily endorsing any such restrictions.

The real problem with the discussion about Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims from visiting the U.S. is that very few commentators acknowledge (1) we are at war and (2) there are always trade-offs in policy decisions.

Almost no one—including, we would venture to guess, Donald Trump—would like the idea of banning people of a certain religion from entering the U.S. in principle.  Plenty of Muslims contribute to American society; want to visit as tourists, students, or businesspeople; and wish no harm on the country.  However, since there is a significant population of Muslims who consider themselves at war with the U.S., we are right to consider trade-offs.  President Obama or the pontificators calling Trump’s idea “ridiculous” have not addressed the question of how many innocent Muslims can reasonably be barred the privilege of traveling to the country in exchange for keeping the country safe from terrorists.

 

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Conservatives shouldn’t refer to “rationing” health care

Much commentary from the right on health care uses the term “rationing,” such as a recent piece by Wesley Smith in National Review Online.  Please indulge our minor quibble with the term “rationing,” because rationing supply and demand of goods for which we would like all an unlimited amount, such as health care, is exactly what markets are for.

Health care will be rationed by one mechanism or another.  Conservatives should cast the debate as rationing via market mechanisms versus rationing by government bureaucrats (sorry, “experts”), who, as Smith points out, are subject to all sorts of perverse incentives.  People who understand markets comprehend that, even were bureaucrats completely benevolent and possessing as much information as humanly possible, they could not ration health care (or any other good) to maximize welfare as well as the market could.

Perhaps when conservatives use the term, they merely are applying short-hand for the concept of “rationing by bureaucratic fiat” or rationing by non-market mechanisms in general.  But this does a disservice to the audience’s understanding of the free market:  we should make it clear that we are talking not about rationing as what markets do by definition, but rather by something akin to central planning.

I propose the use of more descriptive terms, such as “politicization of health care provision” or “death panels.”

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Media desperately attempts to search for the root of “radicalization”

It was surreal to see CNN the other night (12/07/15 EST) alternating headlines between revelations about how the couple behind the Islamic terror attack in San Bernardino were “radicalized for ‘quite some time'” and bashing Donald Trump for trying to address the problem of Muslim terrorist infiltration in the U.S.

MSM navel-gazing about how a Muslim could be mysteriously “radicalized”—as if entering a black box then emerging from it—is nothing more than a red herring, just another mechanism to obscure the linkage between Islam and terrorism.  It’s also consistent with the victimization narrative that so dominates our society:  the passive construction of the word “radicalized” implies that it creates victims who have had some vague action done upon them as opposed to having made their own decisions for which they are accountable.

To hear the media tell it (with due credit to South Park), some sequence of events like this occurs:

  1. Islam
  2. ??
  3. Radicalization
  4. Terrorism

While it’s trivial to observe that not all Muslims are “radical” in the sense that they wish to terrorize and kill non-Muslim populations or are sympathetic to those who do, it is also equally obvious that something inherent in Islam promotes “radicalization.”  Anyone who attended an Islamic school (i.e., almost everyone) in Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Iran, or the Palestinian territories—or any number of madrassas in many countries in the world—has been “radicalized.”

A better heuristic to understand the phenomenon of Islamic terrorism might be to explore how so many Muslims have become de-radicalized in light of the societies from which they have emerged.

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Liberals may finally get their wish to eradicate car ownership, but miss the point as usual

Liberals hate cars.  The automobile, made a mass consumption item by American ingenuity, capitalism, and prosperity, is the ultimate symbol of personal freedom.  The car owner can drive wherever he wants, whenever he wants, accompanied by whomever he wants.  The milestone of owning one’s own car is a symbol of success to which many Americans aspire.  They open economic opportunity for commuters.  Cars are, for many enthusiasts, an expression of their individual style.  For many an individual living in a crowded home with a bickering wife and screaming kids, schlepping to a workplace comprised of people he doesn’t like, having to stand in line at the grocery store to pick up ingredients for dinner, those minutes in his car are a welcome respite of solitude in one’s own personal space.

These are all mindsets that liberals despise.  They decry the “suburban sprawl,” “gas-guzzling,” “road rage,” conspicuous consumption, luxury,  pollution, and overall selfishness that cars enable.  Liberals would prefer that you took the train or bus—quintessential symbols of collectivism—to travel from where they want you to be to where they want you to go, with the added benefit of being forced to mingle literally toe-to-toe with the rest of humanity.  It’s no coincidence that, unlike Europeans, Americans have not bought into large-scale rail travel.

Liberals have designed entire utopian frameworks, under banners like “smart cities” and “transit-oriented development” to centrally plan the organization of society in the manner that they find morally virtuous.  (Not to mention that liberal politicians love all manner of rail proliferation because it presents copious opportunities for graft, what with the land acquisition along future rail lines, to bloated construction and maintenance contracts and overstuffed union sinecures, to boards and commissions, tax increases, and ribbon cuttings.)

This is apparently the perspective of Dan Neil, writing in Wall Street Journal, whose ideology curtails his ability to analyze the economic implications of self-driving cars in an article entitled “Private car ownership is on the road to becoming a rarity.”

We agree that self-driving cars combined with car sharing have the potential to yield tremendous benefits for society:  reducing costs, allowing people to make better use of their time, allowing more people to be mobile, improving safety, reducing congestion, and, ultimately, allowing people to expand the radii in which they can readily travel, making for great economic benefit.

That’s all well and good, but Mr. Neil can’t help but ooze disdain for the very concept of private car ownership.  He lectures that it makes us “forget the joys of selflessness” in an era of “reckless glut.”

“In 25 years, the only people owning cars will be hobbyists, hot rodders and Flat Earthers,” he gushes, failing to acknowledge any of the benefits of private car ownership other than in these supposed fringes, and barely accepting the existence of a free-market outcome that means that people have the right to express their own preference.  Referring to China, he dismisses cars as nothing more than “status item, as luxury, as totem of personal mastery in a fragile postcolonial mind-set.”  Only a coddled liberal would so glibly dismiss the ability of a Chinese subject to unshackle state control of all aspects of his life in at least one dimension.

He concludes, “The notion that we as consumers will forgo the awesome pleasures of the automobile—the privilege, the mobility, the identity—to share vehicles is, I grant, unfamiliar.”  Mr. Neal, I would respectfully recommend that you familiarize yourself with it before breezily dismissing the benefits of freedom and autonomy that cars bring to so many people.

 

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