Egoism, Libertarianism, Persuasion, and Worthy Arguments
By Bryan Caplan
If you are a good libertarian, you will care only about your own freedom
and well being. The freedom of others is only of concern to the extent
that it enhances your freedom and well being. Any concern about the
freedom of abstract Haitians is the essence of “soft head, soft heart”
reasoning. As other posters have noted, that will get you nowhere in
convincing others. And it SHOULD get you nowhere. It’s muddle-headed
thinking and not worthy of you. Make your arguments, instead, on how
more open immigration will benefit the people you’re trying to convince.
This comment is mistaken on six different levels.
1. A “good libertarian” would certainly not care only about his own freedom and well-being. Egoism and libertarianism are not the same; indeed, as Michael Huemer shows in an elegant hypothetical, the two views are incompatible.
2. If I cared only about my own freedom and well-being, I wouldn’t bother making political arguments of any kind. Per the logic of collective action, my probability of affecting policy is trivial. I’d be far better off milking my tenure for all it’s worth, doing my bare minimum 150 hours of teaching per year to keep my paycheck, and dividing my remaining time between consulting and apolitical hobbies.
3. My concern for Haitians would only exemplify “soft head, soft heart” reasoning if my favored policies were bad for Haitians. That’s the whole point of the hard/soft head/heart distinction: a “hard head” indicates concern for effective means, a “soft heart” indicates concern for other people. In slogan form: The minimum wage is “soft head, soft heart”; GiveWell is “hard head, soft heart.”
4. The view that appeals to self-interest are more convincing than ethical appeals is totally false. A massive empirical public opinion literature shows that objective self-interest has almost no effect on people’s policy views. Ideology and group identity are what really matter.
5. For many important issues, libertarian appeals to self-interest are factually incorrect. All things considered, abolishing slavery was probably not in the self-interest of American whites. The best argument against slavery was ethical. Case in point:
6. For many other important libertarian issues, appeals to self-interest are factually correct but, to use Brian’s word, “unworthy.” Immigration is such an issue. Yes, doubling GDP by opening world borders will enrich most people in the First World. But these economic benefits for First Worlders are not the main reason why I advocate open borders. The main reason I advocate open borders is that immigration restrictions are a terrible injustice against people from Third World countries. Once someone retreats to, “Yes, immigration restrictions are a terrible injustice, but doing the right thing would be very costly,” I’m happy to delve into the social science with them. Until then, they’re just missing the point.