What I've Been Reading Over the Holidays
By Bryan Caplan
1. Ayn Rand’s We the Living. This is only my second reading of Rand’s first novel, about the tragic life of a young individualist women trapped in the Soviet hell-state. Especially given the prominent role of Jews in the early Bolshevik Party, modern fans of political externalities arguments would probably fear the arrival of a Soviet Jewish refugee. To the best of my knowledge, Rand never discussed political externalities, but there’s no doubt she fully supported open borders. When asked, “What is your attitude toward immigration? Doesn’t open immigration have a negative effect on a country’s standard of living?,” she responded:
You don’t know my conception of self-interest. No one has the right to pursue his self-interest by law or by force, which is what you’re suggesting. You want to forbid immigration on the grounds that it lowers your standard of living — which isn’t true, though if it were true, you’d still have no right to close the borders. You’re not entitled to any “self-interest” that injures others, especially when you can’t prove that open immigration affects your self-interest. You can’t claim that anything others may do — for example, simply through competition — is against your self-interest. But above all, aren’t you dropping a personal context? How could I advocate restricting immigration when I wouldn’t be alive today if our borders had been closed?
By the way, there is also an excellent 3-hour Italian movie version of We the Living, shot illegally during World War II, then banned by Mussolini.
2. The Bogie Man by John Wagner, Alan Grant, and Robin Smith. A hilarious graphic novel about a dangerous escaped mental patient who thinks he’s a Humphrey Bogart character. Highly un-Szaszian – the lead character would easily pass my “Gun to the Head Test.” But when I read fiction, I put story-telling, creativity, and word-play first.
3. Deaths of Despair and the Future of Capitalism by Anne Case and Angus Deaton. Case was my dissertation advisor at Princeton, but not a big intellectual influence on me. Still, this book overlaps closely with many of the issues on my mind these days, and leaves little doubt that severe social pathologies really are heavily concentrated (rather than simply more visible or stigmatized) among the poor. Why should “capitalism” be blamed for the irresponsible choices of a small minority of the population? I doubt Case and Deaton will have a good answer, but have yet to finish the book…