A Question for Steve Sailer's B-School Professor
By Bryan Caplan
By “citizenism,” I mean that I believe
Americans should be biased in favor of the welfare of our current
fellow citizens over that of the six billion foreigners.
Let me describe citizenism using a business analogy. When I was getting an MBA
many years ago, I was the favorite of an acerbic old Corporate
Finance professor because I could be counted on to blurt out in
class all the stupid misconceptions to which students are prone.
One day he asked: “If you were running a publicly
traded company, would it be acceptable for you to create new
stock and sell it for less than it was worth?”
“Sure,” I confidently announced. “Our
duty is to maximize our stockholders’ wealth, and while selling
the stock for less than its worth would harm our current
shareholders, it would benefit our new shareholders who buy the
underpriced stock, so it all comes out in the wash. Right?”
“Wrong!” He thundered. “Your obligation is to your current stockholders, not to somebody who might buy the stock in the future.”
Steve immediately adds:
That same logic applies to the valuable right of being an American citizen and living in America.
But I want to continue the conversation with Steve’s professor. If I’d been in the same class, I would have immediately raised my hand:
Me: Well, suppose I could help current stockholders by poisoning the products of our competitors, leading to the deaths of thousands of children. Do I have an obligation to do that?
Prof: Are you out of your mind? That’s murder!
Me: Oh, right. Well, suppose I could help current stockholders by kidnapping the CEOs of firms that try to hire away our workers? Am I obliged to do so?
Prof: No! You’re obliged not to kidnap anyone.
Me: I’m confused. You told me I have a fiduciary obligation to my shareholders, right?
Prof: You’re taking me way too literally, kid. Basic moral obligations come first. If your fiduciary duty clashes with your basic moral obligations, you have to ignore your fiduciary obligations. Everybody knows that.
Yet as far as I’ve seen, none of the defenses of “citizenism” address this concern. If an avowed citizenist were to announce…
Of course I acknowledge fundamental moral obligations to all humans. But we still have a little moral latitude to favor fellow citizens.
…the two of us could have a useful conversation. I’d ask, “If allowing a peaceful worker to accept a job offer from a peaceful employer isn’t a fundamental moral obligation, what is?” And I’d listen carefully and respectfully to his reply.
However, if a citizenist recognizes no moral obligations to non-citizens, I can only dismiss him as a monster. The same goes if the citizenist says he recognizes some moral obligations to non-citizens, but then refuses to specify them or seriously consider whether the policies he advocates violate these obligations.
As a parent, I identify with the citizenist’s sense of obligation to his people. I freely admit that I put my children’s welfare far ahead of the welfare of strangers. Nevertheless, if one of my children kicked an innocent person, cheated on a test, or slashed a rival’s tires, I’d have a duty to set my feelings aside and make my child answer for his offense. I certainly wouldn’t help my child trample the rights of others.
Does this make me special? Hardly. I’m only describing common decency. I suspect that most citizenists would treat their wayward children the same way I would.
My question for citizenists everywhere: If you think you’re often morally obligated to suppress the favoritism you naturally feel for your children, why aren’t you morally obligated to suppress the far milder favoritism you naturally feel for your fellow citizens? Once you suppress this favoritism, can you really in good conscience take the side of a citizen who wants to deny foreigners permission to work so he can get a better job?
HT: Chris Hendrix