Last week, I wrote about issues of US immigration policy and whether it is wise, in the face of rapidly growing labor needs, to take on an attitude of restrictive policy and aggressive pursuit of sending illegal immigrants packing. I still maintain that such policies are destined to exacerbate shortages in available labor (of people who are willing to work). However, many commenters on the article pointed out that the US welfare state rewards people to exit the labor market, and also causes not only shortages in the labor pool, but also rewards illegal immigration for people to take advantage of available welfare programs.
I might point out that those immigrants affected by DACA have employment rates upward of 95% and are a group that does not particularly apply well to this argument, but that is beside the point. It is a legitimate concern that the welfare state undermines labor pools and creates shortages in the labor markets. However, to insist that there must be aggressive anti-immigration policy as long as a welfare state exists is a little bit of all or nothing thinking.
It is confusing for me to hear from libertarian circles an all or nothing sentiment, considering the minority position held by libertarians politically. If the all or nothing thinking were to be applied and expanded, then one would have to argue that nothing can be done to make changes until all changes can be adopted. A libertarian form of government would not be achievable, because we cannot have any changes until all changes can be met. It’s a bit of an odd way of thinking. It is perfectly acceptable to believe that the welfare state should be curtailed, while at the same time believing that aggressive anti-immigration policy is harmful to labor markets (be it legal or illegal immigration).
Both are harmful to labor markets and to the economy as a whole. Legality aside, efficiencies in markets require free exchange, and free exchange cannot be achieved if businesses cannot meet their labor needs with groups of people who are willing to work but are not allowed. At the same time, free exchange cannot be met when laborers are rewarded for exiting the labor market to receive government subsidies. I’m not arguing the morality here, or whether a society should or should not provide assistance, but simply arguing the economics. A positive move in either the side of reducing welfare reliance or increasing available immigrant labor is a positive move in the right direction.
However, there is a much larger point to be made here outside of immigration arguments. All or nothing thinking is bad for any movement, in any philosophy. It’s why successful religions do not require that a person be a perfect person before they can join the religion. It’s why political parties that insist that people accept all the tenants or none never get off the ground. As long as members of the Libertarian Party deride people for not being “real libertarians” or for not being libertarian enough (whatever that may mean), the party isn’t going to make any strides. Neither will the larger libertarian movement grow as long as the same types of thinking exist in a significant capacity. Any progressive steps in the direction of libertarianism should be applauded without insisting that all steps be taken before some steps can take place.
By its very nature, libertarianism is a philosophy that attracts independent thinkers who are not crowd followers and have gotten to the way they think by questioning foundational beliefs and popular ways of thinking. Libertarians, by and large, are not made up of group thinkers. So, it is not at all unusual that libertarians, though connected by the same general philosophy, have wide and varying opinions about the details of that philosophy. Getting such a group of people to all move in the exact same direction would be far beyond the phrase “like herding cats.”
But, all or nothing thinking has the potential to absolutely destroy the movement. Now, I am not talking just about the comments sections on my articles, because I would invite any and all comments of any type, provided they come from a place of actually having read the article. I’m speaking more of the movement at large. Anyone who disagreed with last week’s article and voiced it in the comments section provided beneficial insight for others to consider and were right to do so. Disagreements and arguments are crucial to the success of a movement, but insisting that people agree with everything you say or they are not a part of the movement is harmful to the movement itself (in the broader sense – not applying to the comments section alone). Furthermore, anyone who insists that every change must be made before any change at all is taking the philosophy to the point of death.
It should be fully expected that this particular problem exists in a group of independently minded people like libertarians. But, that doesn’t mean it should be kept that way. It’s something to be constantly guarded against and fought, even though it will never completely go away. As long as it can be kept at a minimum, the movement will flourish, but if too many members of the movement take on the all or nothing thought process, the movement will stagnate, wither, and die away. Good luck getting any two people to agree on everything – much less an entire group of libertarian thinkers. There is going to have to be some difference of opinions, and it is beneficial to think that as things are progressing in the right direction, they are also getting us all closer to our goals. It is impossible to adopt everything all at once.
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