Are Nations Tribes?

Ezra Klein:

During Monday’s debate, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer asked whether an uninsured 30-year-old who had chosen to go without insurance should be left to die if he falls unexpectedly ill. Ron Paul dodged the question. … If you collapse on a street, an ambulance will rush you to a hospital. If you get into a car accident, you’ll wake up in intensive care. … Whether you get billed or your family gets billed or society gets billed, someone will pay the bill. … Even the hardest of libertarians has always understood that there are places where your person ends and mine begins. Generally, we think of this in terms of violent intrusion or property transgressions. But in health care, it has to do with compassion. We are a decent society, and we do not want to look in people’s pockets for an insurance card when they fall to the floor with chest pains.

But a great many ill, collapsed, etc. folks in the world are largely left to die, at least if curing them costs anything like a US hospital stay. Ezra argues above for “decent” national care, not global care. And even libertarians wouldn’t leave family members to die. So everyone agrees that we heroically help some, and leave others to die. We only disagree on who falls into which category.

I see key similarities between this and many responses to my recent posts, such as on 9/11, alien elites, or immigration. Such as: How can I not see that 9/11 deaths matter far more than most deaths, because this was them attacking our way of life? Or that alien elites secretly running our society, even running it well, must be exterminated though that would be unreasonable for human elites? Or that the richest big US county, Fairfax County, shouldn’t restrict immigration from poorer counties because we US folks are similar enough to each other?

Humans clearly evolved quite different mental modes for thinking about how to treat folks with our our local tribe, vs. how to treat distant strangers. Libertarians largely accept the usual ideas about how to treat both groups. Where they disagree is who counts as a stranger.

Libertarians limit “my tribe” to close family and small chosen communities, much as did our forager ancestors, who were free to change bands at any time. Farmer culture taught farmers to think of distant strangers as “my tribe”, as long as “our elites” said so, or if “we” fought wars together. And nation-states have worked hard over the last few centuries to transfer this feeling to nations. Libertarians mostly just don’t accept this. And though I’m not strictly libertarian, on this I agree – it is far from obvious that nations must be our tribes.

Now people usually try to be nicer to their tribe than to distant strangers. From this one might conclude that libertarians, who see more folks as strangers, are not as nice people. But not only are folks who see their tribe as smaller usually nicer to such insiders, libertarians also tend to be more accepting of mutually beneficial interactions with strangers. And economists make a pretty strong case that libertarian policies such as free immigration would greatly improve overall welfare.

As with Ezra’s comments above, most critiques of libertarian policy seem to miss this central point, by invoking standard ways to classify folks into “us” and “them.” To criticize libertarians effectively, you need to make clear why exactly “we” are a nation, rather than the entire world, or close family and friends. Alas, few critics even try to argue this point.

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  • Anonymous

    Alas, few critics even try to argue this point.

    Because they can rely on cached associations that make the us vs. them distinction implicit. Once you use such a distinction implicitly, using standard language, you no longer need to defend it explicitly. This is a very effective rhethorical device, and I see it all the time in political, philosophical or religious debates.

    The scary part is that most people aren’t really aware of this effect.

  • So everyone agrees that we heroically help some, and leave others to die.

    Well, nearly everyone. There are some utilitarians out there, like Toby Ord, but they have essentially no voice in political debates like this; for obvious reasons politicians are primarily interested in the perceived well-being of their electorate, not the world as a whole.

    • Wonks Anonymous

      Even a utilitarian would say it makes more sense to get utils-for-your-buck by saving the young and otherwise healthy who can then have long & happy lives ahead of them. Medical spending now disproportionately goes to those near the end of their lives.

      • NICE, the agency that in the UK approves drugs for use on the NHS, does so on the basis of how much each QALY bought with the drug costs, which is a form of utils-per-buck decision making that doesn’t suffer from the problem you mention.

        Sadly, not all decisions wrt NHS spending are made on this basis; and of course even if they were, it would still massively suffer from the problem that Robin highlights here, that NICE will spend £30,000 to buy one QALY for someone entitled to NHS treatment, while the same amount will buy thousands of QALYs for the world’s poorest.

  • Richard Dice

    Heath care norms are debated in terms of nations because the norms are implemented by laws, and the nation is the logical scope of (most) lawmaking.

    We expect the norms to transcend nations to the larger civilization, even though we appreciate that the individual nations involved in the civilization won’t actualize the norms in precisely the same way. (A “sphere of compatible and comparable norms” is actually a pretty good definition for a civilization.) That the USA is so out of step with the norms of the larger Western civilization that it is a part of when it comes to health care norms it obvious, and accounts for all the cocked-eyes Americans get from… well, everyone else.

    • States, counties, cities, and towns have laws. Norms can also be enforced in clubs, neighborhoods, and firms.

  • This is an insightful post.

    The trend in the modern era is to extend tribal feelings to larger and larger units, first through nationalism and then through universalist/progressivism. Sometimes this is quite explicit (eg, in The Family of Man, a very popular exhibit and book from my childhood). Underlying this trend is the development of better communications technologies, from the printing press that enabled the triumph of national languages over local dialects through the television that lets us gape in real-time at disaster victims on the other side of the world.

    Much of libertarianism seems to be a reaction against this; partly a reasonable one since it is not really possible to treat six billion people as if they were family. But it generally goes too far and turns off compassion completely or replaces it with abstract utilitarianism. Thus Ron Paul will neve be president, and comes off as a one-note crank who can’t really connect with people as a politician must.

  • matt

    I think libertarians can’t have it both ways. If our political unit is a valid one, then the US grouping must make some kind of sense. Why have a political unit that exists for something other than the benefit of it’s members?

    If the US grouping doesn’t make sense, why is our political unit, the USA government a valid authority? Why would a “libertarian” be running for president of a unit that has no standing to exist?

    • Political units can make sense as centers of cooperative arrangements. But those can be arrangements among strangers, not family and close friends.

      • matt

        Cooperative arrangements by their nature are a set of obligations one has to one on another. These obligations must be above and beyond your obligations to strangers, otherwise they wouldn’t be necessary. Again you are trying to have it both ways. Do you recognize no categories or relationships between close friends and strangers?

      • Kitty_T

        Matt – I’m confused. We take as a given that the nation-state is a valid unit for purposes of some cooperative arrangements between people (not only, but perhaps most importantly, strangers).

        So what?

        Just because we may validly have one set of cooperative arrangements with the nation at large, it doesn’t follow that the nation-state is the only, or even primary, valid unit for cooperation. Do you have the same obligations to everyone in America as you do to your family (if so I have a tuition bill for you)? Do you feel you have different obligations to the firm you work form than you do to a competitor firm?

        I assume that’s not what your saying – but what, then, does the mere fact that there is a valid US national group tell us about what obligations should exist within that group, as opposed to other groups, be they more or less inclusive?

      • matt

        First, you missed my point I don’t think the nation-state is the only or primary valid unit for cooperation and never argued as such. In fact, I am arguing that there are many units, the nation-state being one. Robin argues there are only 3, strangers, close friends, and family. He doesn’t seem believe in obligations to any other grouping.

        However, if you admit a group is valid then you have obligations to its fellow members. These obligations must be above and beyond your obligations to strangers, otherwise they wouldn’t be necessary, no group would form.

        Additionally people make the distinction between, stranger who is part of my group, and stranger who is not. This is a valid and useful distinction. When I lived abroad I was always happy to meet other Americans, and was more likely to help them. Despite the fact that citizens of my host country could have used the help more. Is this irrational, or immoral? No its human!

      • Kitty_T

        OK. I didn’t think Robin was arguing that there are only 3 possible groups – I took them simply as common examples of different groups which have different obligations – and certainly I agree that there can be distinctions between strangers “in my group” and strangers who are not. I guess I just don’t see how that would add to an argument against Libertarianism, of any stripe. Instead, it just seems to go to Robin’s point that policy arguments are frequently framed as if they are about what obligations should exist (an unspoken assumption that, if the obligation exists, it should extend to “everyone”), when they might better be about defining the appropriate group for a given obligation (who is “everyone”?).

        And I’d agree that favoring people “in my group,” whatever it is, is very human. But that obviously doesn’t make it rational, or very defensible. While some groups (family, close friends, Jets fans, whatever) may be premised on emotional or non-rational mutual support, that level of obligation is hard to maintain as the scale of the group gets larger – obligations that aren’t rationally supported may require an emotional bond (there’s a better term for that – “instinctive gut-level connection that can overwhelm reason”?) that only stretches so far (morally or not). So for larger groups, it makes sense that you would need more objective, rational reasons to convince people that the obligation should exist, and the argument that it is the “just” or “right” thing to do start to fail.

        But that just speaks to what works by way of persuasion – it still doesn’t address whether a given set of obligations is a rationally or objectively good idea or not for a given group.

  • Relevant post from today’s news on nationalism.

  • cournot

    I’m sorry. Libertarians need to explain to OTHERS why their tribal definitions are right. Otherwise they deserve to be ignored. Existing arrangements for good or for ill have both tradition, culture, law, and force on their side.

    Several libertarians I know are inherently disloyal and in many cases even “proud” to be antipatriotic. Some even deny the importance of treason, so my attitude is you can all hang unless you can prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that I’m wrong and you’re right.

    At the margin reading Robin has forced me to reconsider how much I should abandon my attachment to many liberal ideas.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      Existing arrangements for good or for ill have both tradition, culture, law, and force on their side.

      True enough. And those with the largest amount of force on their side
      are mostly governmental and perhaps some economic arrangements.
      Governmental arrangements are generally demarcated geographically,
      ultimately because of warfare.

      Tribes, though, can be vaguer things in the modern world. I see them as
      groups of natural allies. Geography does affect them. Someone who
      lives a mile from me is more likely to be an ally than someone a hundred
      miles away, and they in turn, are a more likely ally than someone on
      another continent. The drop-off isn’t smooth. Governmental boundaries
      do matter – but not as purely all-or-nothing decisions. Other parameters
      matter too: age, occupation, income, gender, education. Now, should
      they be combined in an L1, L2, or L-infinity metric to predict probably
      alliances? 🙂

  • Nick P.

    Or that the richest big US county, Fairfax County, shouldn’t restrict immigration from poorer counties because we US folks are similar enough to each other?

    Complete non-sequitor. To imply that the immigration of a high-IQed professional workforce from other counties is the equivalent to the immigration of low-IQed peasants from a 3rd world country are equal is dangerous. This is a common point economists make and it is very flawed. As a resident of Fairfax county (originally from Detroit, MI) I can assure you and your readers it is the high IQ immigrants who have turned Fairfax into what it is, not the low-skill laborours. There was a film made a few years ago about what would happen if the mexicans disappeared from Los Angeles. I would be curious to see a film made where high-IQ professionals left Fairfax county…..Oh, thats’ right, they did, it’s called Detroit.

    Now if someone could assure me that only the high IQed professionals are immigrating accross the Rio Grande, than evil “bigots” like me would be ok with unchecked immigration.

    • magicdufflepud

      Pretty Robin is saying that Fairfax would keep the poor folks from Fredricksburg out, not “high-IQ” workers, although I suppose you could imagine that too. You’re changing his argument to create one with which you’d prefer to disagree. In fact, you’re saying that without these high-IQ immigrants, Fairfax wouldn’t be what it is today, implying that poor folks would tarnish that reputation.

      • magicdufflepud

        *Pretty sure, that is.

    • Matthew C.

      It is, of course, the hideous leviathan bloodsucking state that makes Fairfax Co. so wealth. And this is a recent development — and a perfect indicator of the collapse we are facing.

    • Ari T

      Since I brought the median IQ argument in the previous thread maybe I should respond. For private sector, IQ hardly matters. I say hardly, because probably high IQ correllates with economic efficiency but private sector can mostly internalize external costs. On the net, the gains for economy from mass immigration are massive or at least can be massive (order of double the GDP said by some estimates).

      Public sector is a different case. With mass immigration, you’ll probably end up with more Detroits. Now free market has a way to solve these problems, but I think its a bit too confident to say these solutions come as all-around Pareto-optimal. There are Coasean solutions to environment problems aswell but saying that such solutions are the only sensible solutions to eg. AGW, is pushing it. You should also remember that its not going to be the tenured professors who are going to live in the bad neighborhoods and suffer the consequences.

      At least here has been some discrimination by shops, because certain ethnic groups were more likely to steal stuff. State outlawed and fined such shops of course.

      Also here are some papers by anti-immigration economist, although I’m not really convinced; I think most arguments against immigration stem from a) completely irrational arguments like arguments against free trade b) irrationally high risk aversion (given eg. cardinal utility functions). A win-win solution would to use a prediction market with calibrated values, and see what kind of immigration policy you end up. Most likely it would be much much free’er than US is accustomed to.

      p.s. someone who wouldn’t mind working in the US

  • Personally, I don’t feel more responsibility to a random stranger on the other side of the United States than to a random stranger on the other side of the world. But for me, I do feel certain responsibilities for them. I believe that we should strive to build a world where *everybody* has access to certain things. Off the top of my head, a list of such things might include: clean water, education, information, freedom of movement, freedom of speech, and the ability to make use of their local landscapes.

    I don’t know what institutions and social tools are best for bringing about such a world, but I’m not closed to using national governments to do it. I guess this would put me firmly outside of the libertarian camp, at least by Hanson’s definition.

    In terms of policy, I tend to oppose behaviors by my country’s government that result in increasing the disparities in the distribution of these resources, whether within my country, or across the world. I don’t like it when other governments do it either, but I have even less influence over them. Furthermore, it seems more politically tractable to get a nation to look out for its own members than to look out for everybody. I don’t like that fact either.

    At the same time, I feel qualitatively different about the people that I identify as my own tribe (which I believe I define similarly to Hanson’s definition of the how libertarians define their tribes). The outrage that I feel about a friend being treated unjustly is much stronger than the outrage I feel about people in general being treated unjustly. I might also feel more threatened to injustices in my own country *because* they are more likely to affect myself and my tribe.

    So on one level I do see myself as a member of a global tribe, but on another level, my perspective is more libertarian. Pragmatically, I might adopt more nationalistic ideologies because it sometimes seems like the best strategy for improving the situation of at least some people.

  • Here’s my take on the progressive response to this:

    Basically, the short version is – we agree! Let’s give as much healthcare as we can to everyone, not just Americans.

    • Anonymous

      But of course you can! Feel free to donate.

      • Will

        Let US give as much healthcare as we can. Not let ME give.

    • Jack

      This is basically my reaction as a left-libertarian. And I think a lot of lefties agree with this- what I don’t understand is why that agreement so rarely affects progressive policy prescriptions. People in developing countries are with little doubt worse off than the vast majority of Americans without health insurance. And yet the American left spends the vast majority of it’s resources and political capital obsessing over programs that redistribute wealth from the global elite to the global upper-middle class. Progressives seem to care about people outside their national tribe *in principle* but their policies reveal tribal allegiances only to a subset of the American population.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t really feel the tribal thing with regards to nationalities. It’s more like “me” vs. “others” for me. To some degree, this even includes family and friends, which are all optional voluntary ties for me. I don’t accept any loyalty obligation I haven’t voluntarily and explicitly taken.

    I disagree with libertarians on the unlimited physical property rights concept. I’d be ready to put a cap of, say $1 million on individual private property to promote general welfare, but I don’t understand the economic implications well enough to make a case. I agree with libertarians more strongly about bodily autonomy and individual choice in most controversial topics, including suicide, sex, income taxation etc.

    OTOH, there are some crucial exceptions. I think reproduction should be globally limited to comfortably sustainable levels, even though implementation may be unrealistic. Generally, you should only be allowed to have kids if you can prove you can get them at least through the first decade financially. Then they can fend for themselves, get voluntary donations from others, or access good suicide drugs.

    • Jeffrey Soreff

      Ideally, I agree with your suggestion that

      reproduction should be globally limited to comfortably sustainable levels, even though implementation may be unrealistic.

      Unfortunately – can you imagine how bad the abuse of that power would get? I, personally, am childfree, so giving the state the power to forbid me to reproduce is no skin off my back – but imagine how much power the state would then have over the 90% of the population that wants to reproduce…

      • Konkvistador

        Its pretty much one of the most important rewards the state can give you period. It would rapidly increase the rate of human self domestication.

  • tribesman

    Could you disclose a country breakdown of visitors of your blog from Google Analytics to show where your tribe is located? 🙂

  • As I mentioned on econlog:

    I think you may have stumbled upon the reason why a liberal (libertarian) and progressive political alliance has yet to form. The primary disagreement is over nationalism, not egalitarianism as we believed.

  • Lord

    Conservatives offer plenty of reasons which libertarians don’t like or choose to ignore. For liberals, it is more a matter of pragmatism. Making everyone equal may be desirable in the abstract but most progress relies on inequality.

  • Anonymous Cow

    Excellent article.

  • You think nationhood and tribe could have some fundamental differences?

    All those political concept is based on the fact that HUMANS ARE TERRITORIAL BY NATURE! Of course “my people” matters more than others. This is a natural response for people. Of course there are people who think they are gods who could share compassion for everyone and everything in the world. Noble thought, either you are stupid or extremely compassionate and intelligent at the same time. Either way, it doesn’t change the fact that the general fact that we are all territorial just like we all have certain degree of compassion.

  • Will

    So libertarians want to return to forager culture but keep modern advancements.

    Conservatives want to return to farmer culture, also keeping modern advancement.

    Progressives, on the other hand, want to return to forager culture but gradually expand the size of our tribes.

    Ezra is working as part of a long-term progressive project. The best way to get the US as a whole comfortable with helping distant others is to get it comfortable with helping close others, then further others, then further others ….

    • Matthew C.

      There is, of course, an insurmountable distance between “helping” others, and enlisting the guns and money-printing counterfeiting of the state to take money from one class of people to give it to another (usually from the poor and middle class to the rich, in reality).

  • Anonymous

    Feel collectively free to donate then.

    But “giving” isn’t what you’re talking about, is it? It’s taking by force, and then giving to strangers.

    • Anonymous

      (This was a reply to Will. It should be up there.)

  • rapscallion

    But libertarians don’t want laws to govern their family/kin the same way that progressives want laws to govern the entire nation. I’ve never heard of a self-identified libertarian who thought that other members of his family should be legally, forcefully compelled to help other family members. The differences between libertarians and non-libertarians are much deeper than just a question of who you should think of as part of your tribe.

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  • Great post. Compare with my “Gated Communities and Nation States: The Cartel Responsible for Global Poverty,” in which I argue:

    “Global poverty is caused by restricted access to high quality legal systems. Insofar as there are obstacles to replicating high quality legal systems, the global governance system is acting like a cartel that restricts entry. Thus some four billion people are getting screwed because the people at the top like the system the way it is, and all academic Rawlsians (do let me know if you discover even one exception) blindly support this system of screwing the world’s poorest four billion. By their own moral standard, they are accomplices to the single greatest moral crime on earth.”

    Nationalist, nation-state, and statist assumptions are so deeply ingrained in the assumptions of most people, Rawlsian academics included, that they are incapable of seeing clearly the extent to which those assumptions perpetuate unnecessary poverty for billions of people.

    • Hedonic Treader

      Careful with superlatives:

      the single greatest moral crime on earth

      There are more non-human animals suffering forced net-negative lives in factory farming than there are humans on the planet, assuming that they are sentient and their lives feel more bad than good, which I think is probably true.

  • Jack

    Um, the most prominent and popular libertarian public figure is Ron Paul. Paul has a substantially more anti-immigration view than most leftists.

    I realize of course that there is a cosmopolitan, libertarian elite that cares deeply about liberalizing immigration. But there are also plenty of left-leaning elites who care far more about helping the poorest humans than about giving health care to Americans. Tribal nationalism seems to be what characterizes successful political movement *not* what characterizes non-libertarianism.

  • Todd

    I think you’re missing the point about libertarians. It’s not a matter of defining the size of the in-group. It’s about whether transactions are voluntary or not. Even if you squeezed that in-group down to the size of a family, or even just a couple, the relationship between the members of the family must be voluntary and mutually beneficial.

    I’m serious. You’re missing the point.

  • Libertarianism relies on the implicit assumption that individuals are not contigent on the social world that produced them. Most forms of libertarianism go on to assume that proprty rights exist independent of the network of power relationships that define, enforce, and distribute property in the first place. The major reason to advocate for implementing health care systems on a national level, rather than a global one, is because the structures that will underly such an effort do not exist on a global scale.

    Nearly everyone thinks that societal structures including the deployment of violence for some purposes and not for others. What those things should be is almost definitionally a site of contestation. Libertarians try to pretend that they aren’t doing this by claiming that the set of norms they feel should be made “laws” including their conception of how property works are inherent and fundamental rather than conditioned and dependent.

    • James

      “Libertarianism relies on the implicit assumption that individuals are not contigent on the social world that produced them.”

      This is not correct.

      The majority of libertarians are libertarians because they believe that expansions of the role of the state nearly always make people worse off.

      A majority of the remainder start from the assumption that an immoral act is immoral, even if the doer is acting on behalf of a government.

      Neither of these depends on any position concerning whether individuals are socially constructed or anything like that. Many libertarians (me, for example) believe that people are socially constructed and see no conflict between this and our libertarianism.

      Can you cite any libertarian who actually claims what you say?

    • oldoddjobs

      Daniel Kuehn made this point once on his blog. He restricts government programs to U.S citizens because the government is equipped to deal with people in the country and not other countries.

      If lives are at stake, you’d think they’d make more of an effort to help the worst off (foreigners), but hey.

  • Roger

    Todd is right.

    Robin, Ezra and most of the commenters are missing the point. Libertarianism is about voluntary interactions. Some will voluntarily reach out to family. Some to neighbors. Some to nation and some to the world.

    As for Ezra’s article, of course there isn’t sufficient room for charity in the mess we made by interfering with a free market of health care. In two or three generations of health care paid by others, the system has amplified out of control — kind of like education. Everyone wants the best benefits — paid by someone else. And since the customer doesn’t pay, inefficiency and rent seekers have flooded in.

    Progressive government interference destroyed American health care affordability, and now progressives complain that voluntary altruism can’t handle this mess?

  • Mike V.

    This is the classic libertarian run-around the issue game. Someone presents a cogent, real-world example and the libertarian responds with some philosophical mental masturbation. What does “alien elites” or 9/11 or Fairfax county have to do with healthcare?

    • roystgnr

      And what’s with those scientists? I try to get one of those jerks to tell me why my car can’t get 200 miles to the gallon, and they start wanking about “thermodynamics” and “entropy”! “Maxwell’s demon” indeed!

  • Evan

    Libertarians limit “my tribe” to close family and small chosen communities, much as did our forager ancestors, who were free to change bands at any time.

    I can’t say that I agree with this at all. Most libertarians I am familiar with, myself included, are libertarians because we believe the same moral rules apply to everybody. Libertarian believe everyone is a “member of our tribe” in the sense that we all have certain moral duties towards others. What differs is what these moral duties consist of, libertarians tend to believe that nonaggression and respecting people’s freedom of choice are far more important duties than other people think they are.

    The reason most libertarians I know are so anti-government is that they apply the same moral rules to government officials as they do to individuals (stealing is wrong, for example). Similarly, the reason libertarians are far more pro-free trade and pro-immigration than most people is that they don’t see our moral duties towards others as being something that magically changes when that person is born in another country. You should be respect the freedom everybody, no exceptions, especially not for petty reasons like tribe membership.

    I think, therefore, that a good portion of libertarians believe what they do because they have universalist moral values like the Left does. It’s just that those values focus more on freedom than on equality. There are definitely some libertarians who aren’t like that, (Paul might be one of them) but universalist libertarians are certainly are sizable portion of the population. Even Ayn Rand, who was famous for advocating rational selfishness, considered things like racism and sexism to be grave moral sins because they failed to apply her Objectivist ethics to all human beings.

  • Thursday

    Once again, Steve Sailer, who has thought a lot longer and harder about this stuff than anyone here, explains it all:

    • Steve says:

      The reason why we prefer the welfare of our fellow citizens to that of non-citizens is: They are the ones who would fight on your side.

      But lots of people from other nations have fought on “our” sides of wars, such as Iraq, Vietnam, and WWII. I’m not sure many such wars were in my interest, and lots of folks in “my” nation are my competitors and opponents in many ways.

      • Evan

        The difference Robin, is that you are engaging in moral reasoning, while Steve Sailer is engaging in moral rationalization. You are concerned with getting your readers to think about moral questions. Sailer is focused on reassuring his readers that the stuff they already want to do anyway is right. (in general at least 90% of Sailer’s work consists of elaborate rationalizations for why science and ethics justify every single tenet of paleoconservatism)

      • oldoddjobs

        Well if he’s a paleoconservative what do you expect?!

        Likewise, a libertarian or a communist will find that science and ethics justify the tenets of their beliefs.

        Chicken and egg.

      • Thursday

        Steve more or less answered this over here:

        You guys are assuming all the benefits of a property rights enforcing Leviathan without thinking about how it got there in the first place.

      • Thursday

        lots of people from other nations have fought on “our” sides of wars

        People from other nations will sometimes fight to help defend your borders. That’s nice but not terribly reassuring.

      • Thursday

        The difference Robin, is that you are engaging in moral reasoning, while Steve Sailer is engaging in moral rationalization.

        Just like the lefty who accuses libertarians of rationalizing economic injustice and preventable human suffering.

        Whatever gets you through the night, dude.

  • Ari T

    According to this logic, a country shouldn’t have

    a) Macroeconomic policy (I don’t even believe in central banking, but just to be sure)
    b) Standing army, probably unnecessary
    c) Many public goods
    d) Anything that benefits the taxpayers unless it benefits everyone equally on the planet (what if there are people living on other planets?)
    I think that for the most, the honest reason people do not support redistribution of wealth in eg. health care, is not because people want to care equally about everyone on the planet. I’d guess the most honest reasons are a) some economic efficiency arguments b) natural rights arguments.

    Some kind of a test of this could be done. Even just go around surveying if people supported redistribution of wealth if it were done on global basis (Obamacare of whole planet!). Honestly I think most libertarians or republicans would oppose Obamacare or anything like that fiercely whether it was done by state, federal government or UN. Most likely they don’t want their wealth spread around, period (which probably stems from selfishness, I wonder if Robin has invented a method to test this), and it has nothing to do with compassion. People just are homo hypocritus, they come up arguments that work for their favor when necessary.

  • Matt C

    > our forager ancestors, who were free to change bands at any time.

    Skeptical of this one. I have the impression that hunter gatherer tribes are often, maybe usually, hostile toward one another.

  • Jason

    As is mentioned above, the liberal ideal does go as far as the whole of mankind. Some environmentalists go farther to include various amounts of plants and animals in that group. As an avid Star Trek fan, I would extend my tribe to aliens, higher dimensional beings, etc.

    I don’t think Ezra Klein would stop at our nation as our tribe — he would support paying for health care for everyone who wanted in on the Galactic Health Insurance Program. He likely does not think that would be a practical desire, though. The utopian ideal would just cost too much and meet too much opposition to talk about at this point — the global tribe is rarely discussed as you mention.

    However, what I think is interesting is the mainstream advocates of libertarianism don’t stop their advocacy at practicality. They believe in the utopian ideal of near zero government and they advocate it even though it is likely to meet too much opposition at this point.

    The other thing I think is interesting is that in history and today small tribal units tend to exist without monetary systems and subject to far stricter limits on freedom inside the small tribe. The libertarian ideal of market provided goods and services to family groups whose children are free to do what they want seems totally alien.

    • roystgnr

      in history and today small tribal units tend to exist without monetary systems and subject to far stricter limits on freedom inside the small tribe

      And in prehistory, too, during most of our evolution, which is probably most relevant. Our genes are designed to live in totalitarian groups of several dozen people, our happiest social connections are totalitarian groups of several people, why wouldn’t we want to run our societies as totalitarian groups of several hundred million people? There the fact that political power on that scale keeps failing in one bloody disaster after another, of course… but that’s just logical data; it doesn’t change that what *feels* right is for Mom and Dad and The Leaders to protect the family and the tribe and to punish all the outsiders and the outcasts.

      • Thursday

        If you think a monocultural U.S. or Canada is totalitarian then God help you. Anyway, the most likely result of letting in more immigrants is more subordination to larger groupings not less. In a modern society, you just aren’t going to be left alone with your immediate family, but are going to be forced to join up with your co-ethnics to advance your collective interests. That means much less freedom to do your own thing and think your own thoughts.

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  • Thursday

    Libertarians limit “my tribe” to close family and small chosen communities, much as did our forager ancestors, who were free to change bands at any time.

    Libertarians assume the assent of the population to a central state Leviathan with a monopoly on violence as a given. But that assent is based on the feeling that the state represents the tribe. It is decidedly not a given.

    Again, this is classic assume-we-have-a-can-opener thinking. Good god, when the chips are down, nobody is loyal to the rule of law as an abstract principle. In other words, patriotism is a strategy for getting around the very real collective action problems which stand in the way of putting relatively libertarian policies in place over relatively large scale political entities.

    P.S. My guess is foragers would only switch among closely related bands. Kinda like Canadians and Americans.

  • Dave

    The notions discussed here only apply to abstract nonexistent entities.The underling goal is to determine what is right in a cosmic sense using only the imagination and logic.
    Since the evils caused by tribalism and nationhood are viable for all to see but the benefits are concealed by the fact that nations are universal, it is possible to entertain universalism without nationhood.

    Where the rubber hits the road is in actual policy decisions that are put onto effect. When you read discussions by actual policy decision makers, you do not have discussions about whether nations should exist. The decisions are based on perceived national interest. If you had no nations,that would not eliminate the interests that groups of people now called nations have.

    Nations function to address these interests,not to create them.People exscersize power through natiohood but A non- nation is more like Somalia or Afghanistan than

    • Dave

      Drat, the submit comment fired off spontaneously. Forgive the typos.

    • Evan

      If you had no nations,that would not eliminate the interests that groups of people now called nations have.

      Nations function to address these interests,not to create them

      Imagine an ancient Greek making the same argument about poleis, or an 18th century Italian or German making the same argument about the many small states those regions were composed of. They would no doubt mock the idea that thinking of people from other poleis or provinces as “their fellow countrymen” would change anything. They would find the idea that uniting their country into a nation-state to be silly, since poleis/provinces exist to address interests, not create them. They would ask what possible reason you would have for them to think of everyone in the country as part of their tribe, instead of everyone in the polis.

      Nation states exist to serve certain interests, but they also create new ones that didn’t exist before. And weakening the role of the nation-state would not leave those interests unfulfilled. Cities still work to serve their inhabitants’ interests, even though the city-state is no longer the main method of human organization.

      A non- nation is more like Somalia or Afghanistan than

      The whole reason those areas have problems is that they think in the same way nationalists do, only on a smaller scale. If you told an Afghan or Somali that their region would be a better place if they formed a nation-state, they’d make the exact same argument you did, except they’d replace the word “nation” with the word “ethnic group” or “tribe.”

      If it’s okay to say “this region is messed up because of tribalism and lack of national unity,” what makes it so wrong to say “this planet is messed up because of nationalism and lack of planetary unity”?

      • Thursday

        Dude, his whole point is that by eliminating borders, you make those smaller scale tribes more important rather than less. Its never going to be just you and your close family and friends.

  • My intuition is that large nations (USA, China, India, EU) nicely straddle the balance between the benefits of large scale coordinations and overall global diversification.

    Overall, though, I think nations are their own algorithms -as human individuals and small groups we can adopt various postures towards them, but they have their own mechanics, stabilizing, and persistence mechanisms. It’s not clear to me that people can destroy the nation state system any more than we can solve mortality or any other relatively far goal. It might be a romantic notion that you and I are anything more than observers regarding nation states and other macrosocial phenomena.

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  • FiftySeven

    Where they disagree is who counts as a stranger.

    Another way to look at this is they disagree on who gets to decide who counts as a stranger. Libertarians think individuals should decide who is a stranger to them and who is not. Non-libertarians tend to think (federal) government should decide.

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