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In Defense of Openness: Excerpt

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I’m pleased to announced In Defense of Openness is now available. Here’s the blurb: The topic of global justice has long been a central concern within political philosophy and political theory, and there is no doubt that it will remain significant given the persistence of poverty on a massive scale and soaring global inequality. Yet, virtually every analysis in the vast literature of the subject seems ignorant of what developmental economists, both left and right, have to say about the issue. In Defense of Openness illuminates the problem by stressing that that there is overwhelming evidence that economic rights and freedom are necessary for development, and that global redistribution tends to hurt more than it helps. Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan instead ask what a theory

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I’m pleased to announced In Defense of Openness is now available.

Here’s the blurb:

The topic of global justice has long been a central concern within political philosophy and political theory, and there is no doubt that it will remain significant given the persistence of poverty on a massive scale and soaring global inequality. Yet, virtually every analysis in the vast literature of the subject seems ignorant of what developmental economists, both left and right, have to say about the issue.

In Defense of Openness illuminates the problem by stressing that that there is overwhelming evidence that economic rights and freedom are necessary for development, and that global redistribution tends to hurt more than it helps. Bas van der Vossen and Jason Brennan instead ask what a theory of global justice would look like if it were informed by the facts that mainstream development and institutional economics have brought to light. They conceptualize global justice as global freedom and insist we can help the poor-and help ourselves at the same time-by implementing open borders, free trade, the strong protection of individual freedom, and economic rights and property for all around the world. In short, they work from empirical, consequentialist grounds to advocate for the market society as a model for global justice.

A spirited challenge to mainstream political theory from two leading political philosophers, In Defense of Openness offers a new approach to global justice: We don’t need to “save” the poor. The poor will save themselves, if we would only get out of their way and let them.

Table of Contents:

Preface

  1. Zero vs. Positive-Sum Global Justice
  2. The Moral and Economic Case for Free Immigration
  3. Economic Objections to Open Borders
  4. Philosophers’ Objections to Open Borders
  5. The Moral and Economic Case for Free Trade
  6. Philosophers’ Objections to Free Trade
  7. Productive Human Rights
  8. Correcting the Past: Imperialism and Colonialism
  9. Improving the Present: Justice and the Global Order
  10. Towards a Better Future: International Aid and Global Charity
  11. The Climate Change Objection to Economic Growth

Postscript: Toward a More Open World

And here’s the preface:

In 2016, xenophobia had a triumphant year.

Donald Trump complained about foreigners stealing American jobs. He depicted low-skilled immigrants as a threat to the American economy and culture. During his campaign, Trump said he would build a wall to keep out dangerous Mexicans and would do everything in his power to keep out Muslims.

When Bernie Sanders was asked about immigration, he agreed. He dismissed open borders as a “Koch brothers proposal,” a “right-wing proposal which says essentially there is no United States…”[1]Despite the mass of empirical work to the contrary, Sanders nonchalantly claimed that immigration would make almost everyone in the US poorer.[2]

Trump and Sanders reject a society that is open to the world around. Not only do they want immigrants to be rejected at the border, they also want domestic companies to be kept within. Before beginning his Presidency, Trump began to threaten American corporations that would dare move their production abroad. Sanders, too, complained about outsourcing and its supposed harms to American workers. Both claimed that such moves were harmful and the US has a right to prevent them.

Of course, Trump and Sanders are mere symptoms of a much broader popular movement.[3]Many people reject the idea that societies should be open, respecting the freedom of people to move themselves, their goods, and business in and out of society. They think that immigration and trade are bad, especially immigration from and trade with less developed countries.

These people ignore the overwhelming consensus of economists right and left to the contrary. They ignore hundreds of years of research showing otherwise.[4]In their eyes, drawing an imaginary line on map magically transforms mutually advantageous trades of goods and services into dangerous games of poker, where one side’s gain comes at the other side’s loss.

As we’ll show in this book, these ideas are wrong. Mass immigration would not harm, but benefit developed economies. And it would enormously benefit people in the developing world, too.

We have a lot of work to do.

When we turn to mainstream work on global justice, things don’t get much better. There is a huge and growing philosophical literature discussing these issues. But much of this literature is, to be frank, perplexing, frustrating, and at times even embarrassing. If philosophers had conspired to advocate the very opposite of what mainstream institutional and developmental economists recommend, things wouldn’t have turned out much different.

Consider an example. There is overwhelming evidence that economic rights and freedom are necessary for development. And the evidence that mass global redistribution can cure world poverty is flimsy at best. Indeed, many left-leaning economists claim that the large-scale redistribution of wealth to poor countries with dysfunctional governments would actually make things worse. Despite this, most philosophers who write about global justice are either silent about economic rights and liberty, or, worse, try to debunk these rights so they can defend global redistribution.

The global justice literature often assumes (without argument) heterodox and discredited theories of why some nations are rich and some are poor. The dominant view among economists is that rich nations became rich because they had good institutions, while poor nations stayed poor because they had bad institutions. Of course, there is plenty of disagreement and debate about this issue. But economists largely agree that a number of basic institutions are necessary:  strong protection of private property, neutral governments characterized by the rule of law, and free and open markets.

As we will argue in this book, the basic underlying insight here is that ending poverty and oppression requires turning societies into places where people interact on increasingly positive-sum terms. What makes societies thrive is for their people’s productive powers to be harnessed for the common good. And this requires that socially beneficial activities, economic production, and peaceful interaction are what pays. In our view, the way to make the world more just is for this dynamic to extend as far and wide across the globe as possible.

Yet most of the global justice literature proceeds as if the differences in wealth we see around the world either resulted from zero-sum processes or can be solved by zero-sum processes. It assumes that the only way the poor can get rich is for the rich to give up what they have. Saving the poor must come at expense of the rich. If the problem is zero-sum, surely the solution must be zero-sum also.

To make these assumptions is to get the facts wrong. But it’s not just the facts that are wrong here. Philosophers who take these views usually end up endorsing mistaken moralprinciples as well. They misdiagnose the problem and thus misdiagnose the cure. And as we’ll see, there is a relation between these mistakes. Ignoring the real problem makes one miss the real solutions.

We have a lot of work to do.

Pace Trump and Sanders, and pace many of our philosopher colleagues, global justice is not about picking a side on us versus them. The Trump/Sanders nationalist idea—that we should pick us over them—is wrong. The standard leftist view—that we should pick them over us, making the poor rich by making the rich worse off—is also wrong. Both sides make a mistake.

Us or them? Answer: Why not both?

The policies we propose in this book have far more potential to cure global poverty than any of the policies typical philosophers of global justice advocate. At the same time, the policies we recommend to combat global poverty policies also help citizens of developed countries, rather than hurt them. The choice really is not between us and them. Policies can be positive-sum. Justice definitely is.

What justice requires, first and foremost, is for governments to allow and enable people to form mutually beneficial relationships with one another, to allow and enable people to make mutually beneficial transactions. It requires that governments allow their citizens to buy foreign products, hire foreign workers, and rent houses and apartments to foreign tenants. What justice requires is that everyone everywhere have a right to exit, a right to enter, a right to trade, and right to possess, use, and profit from productive property.

In short, what global justice requires, first and foremost, is global openness.

Many think of their nations and countries as akin to houses or clubs. But they really aren’t. Asking Canada—which despite its rhetoric to the contrary, is highly hostile to immigration—to open its borders is not like asking homeowners to let poor people invade their basements. Rather, it’s asking Canada, the US, and every other country is to allow people who want to rent their apartments to foreigners, hire foreigners, or buy products from foreigners, to do so.

If Westerners were well-informed altruists, who cared only about the interests of the global poor and knew what really works, they would support the policies we defend in this book. If Westerners were well-informed egoists, who cared only about themselves but knew how best to do so, they would still support the policies we defend in this book.

Neither, of course, gets the idea of justice right. Justice doesn’t require endless sacrifice at the altar of the other, equality, or compassion. Nor does justice allow us to ignore the plight of others in order to attend to our own. No one should be sacrificed, and the sacrifices won’t work anyway.

Instead, justice is about making people better off together. It is about allowing and encouraging people to better themselves through bettering others, and to let them better others through bettering themselves. Global justice is about extending the range of positive-sum interactions around the world.

Us or them? Why not both?

Jason Brennan
Jason Brennan (Ph.D., 2007, University of Arizona) is Robert J. and Elizabeth Flanagan Family Chair and Associate Professor of Strategy, Economics, Ethics, and Public Policy at the McDonough School of Business, and by courtesy, Associate Professor of Philosophy, at Georgetown University, and formerly Assistant Professor of Philosophy, Research, at Brown University. He specializes in political philosophy and applied ethics.

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