You're not special
By Scott Sumner
You may like your outgoing and family oriented culture, or your introspective and individualistic culture. But that fact, by itself, doesn’t make your culture better than another. (Put aside the question of whether it is better, a much more difficult and controversial proposition.) You may be a Muslim because you were born in Tehran, or a Catholic because you were born in Naples, but that fact doesn’t make your religion special. Similarly, you may have distinctive, well thought out political views, but so do lots of other people, who are just as smart as you and I. There’s no objective reason to view your or my political views as being superior to those of any other person.
Update: David Henderson points out that, as written, my post makes no sense. In the previous sentence I meant “any other similar person”. Mea culpa.
Then why do I aggressively promote my views in the blogosphere? Because that’s my job. I am a small worker ant in a vast intellectual edifice called “economics.” It’s my job to study the issues and report what I believe to be true. I know that other worker ants will do the same. One named Paul Krugman will reach different conclusions, advocating a larger role for government than I think is wise. The hope is that if all economists research their issues, and report their conclusions, then society will consider all of these arguments and enact good public policies. Not all the time, but at least more often than not. And when you look at North Korea or Afghanistan, there’s reason to believe the developed countries have done many things right.
Nonetheless, there is no objective reason for me to assume that just because I inhabit Scott Sumner’s body, my ideas are somehow special. I just do my job.
When I debate issues like immigration, I find that some commenters want to argue that admitting lots of this or that sort of immigrant will lead to bigger government. The implicit assumption is that since the commenter and I both think big government is bad, then admitting those immigrants is a bad idea. I wonder if they realize how arrogant they are being? Their view of the optimal cultural make up of America in 2116 is a country with the same economic views as they have. Not the economic views of Paul Krugman. Not the economic views of Joe Stiglitz. (Both Nobel Prize winners). Rather the views of the commenter.
While I tend to agree that small government is best, I also know that there is nothing special about my opinion. I’m not smarter than lots of economists with different views. It’s not my job to decide whether future Americans should be predisposed to prefer my views on economics or Krugman’s. Thus I should not take political inclinations into account when deciding on which groups should be allowed to immigrate to the US. And I apply this rule to lots of other issues as well. When deciding whether the Electoral College or the popular vote is the best way to pick a president, I pay no attention to which party is helped (it’s not clear in any case, and FWIW I favor the popular vote). Ditto for the parliamentary political system (which I prefer). I don’t care which party it helps. And referendums, another idea I support.
To be fair to the other side, I think there are some cultural attributes that are almost universally viewed as bad, such as high levels of corruption. So if someone wants to argue that admitting a certain type of immigrant will lead to more corruption, that’s a fair argument. But it’s not kosher to advocate an immigration policy expressly for the purpose of favoring your particular political party, or your view on the size of government, when other people who are just as bright hold differing views. Sorry, but you’re nothing special.
I do understand that the illusion of personal identity creates the related illusion that we ourselves are special, and that our precious views of things are special. But we aren’t, and they aren’t.
When the aliens say “take me to your leader”, they don’t mean you. Just do your job.