Thursday, November 26, 2015

A Modest Proposal to Allow Syrian Refugees Into the Country

As a libertarian and a free marketer, I strongly believe in open borders. If you believe that the United States government should not stop Mexico fro m bombarding the American market with tomatoes, you should also have no problem with being bombarded with Mexican workers crossing the border to pick tomatoes. The practical economic results are identical. As such, I am particularly angry with Rand Paul for selling out his libertarian principles to appeal to the bigotry and paranoia of the Republican base in stopping Syrian refugees from entering the country. I do recognize that there are real security concerns, but this is no different than any other liberty issue. Yes government must inevitably act to place restrictions on liberty, but let us allow discussions regarding government action to start with a presumption of liberty. When the government wishes to restrict liberty, the burden of proof is on them to demonstrate that they are doing only what is strictly necessary to defend people's physical safety and that safety is their sole concern.

In thinking about how to let more Syrian refugees in while addressing legitimate security concerns, an idea just occurred to me. We already have a system in place to handle people whom we are not ready to lock up, but are a plausible threat to public safety. It is called bail. People accused of committing crimes are allowed to hand over money to the court as a guarantee of their good behavior while they await trial. If they attempt to flee or commit crimes while on bail, they will go back to jail and lose that money.

My idea owes some inspiration to Kalman's pediatrician. This pediatrician happens to be from Syria and has family trapped there that he would like to bring over. Why not allow him to post "bail" for them? For the sake of throwing in numbers, let us say $100,000 for a man between the ages of 18-50, $50,000 for a woman and $20,000 for children and old people. I assume this doctor trusts his family enough to put up the money for them. So for a year, his family would not be able to commit any felonies, leave the State of California and they would have meet monthly with a case officer. After a year, assuming these conditions have been met, the family members would all get green cards and the doctor would get a refund on his bail money. Everyone wins; the doctor saves his family without losing any money and the American people receives a reasonable guarantee that the family members are not terrorists. If the doctor himself suspects, that his family would violate the agreement and does not want to front the money then that is pretty good evidence for me that these people should not be allowed to enter in the first place.

What I like about this idea is that it puts the market to work solving the problem of figuring out which refugees are genuinely fleeing violence and which ones mean us harm. Let private individuals or organizations put hard money on their evaluations. Whether these evaluations are based on personal knowledge or some complex algorithm is as irrelevant to me as the details of business decisions of any company whose products I consume. Might ISIS decide to spend the bail money as the price for getting a man in? It is possible, but you have to think that there are ways of smuggling terrorists into this country that are cheaper than $100,000.            

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Kalman Evolves Into an Altruist

Kalman is progressing nicely in his eating skills. He has even figured out how to use a spoon. One might even say that he is in danger of becoming civilized. In observing Kalman's development, I am once again amazed by its spontaneity. While Kalman may be very intelligent, it cannot be said that he has any design for his education. Instead, he does things for his own toddler ends. It is only by a happy coincidence that his means have brought about my desired ends. (It certainly has not been due to any parenting skills on my behalf.) This can be seen in Kalman's development into an altruist with an interest in feeding me.

Altruism is a tricky issue for evolution as, on the surface, it seems to go against natural selection. An animal that gave food to someone else would be decreasing its chances of survival and passing along its altruistic genes. By contrast, a selfish animal would be more likely to survive and pass along its selfish genes until those selfish genes have taken over the entire species. Richard Dawkins has argued for kin selection. The altruist would most likely end up helping its own relatives and could therefore indirectly pass along its altruist genes even at the cost of its own personal survival. E. O. Wilson argues that altruism is more deeply rooted in the basic makeup of those species, like ants or primates, which operate in a group setting.

What I find so fascinating about Kalman's attempts to feed me is that, even as it achieves an altruistic end, it does not appear to be motivated by any conscious altruism. Give him food when he is hungry and his first move will be to feed himself. So clearly Kalman places his own welfare above that of anyone else. It is only after he is mostly satiated that he will try to feed someone else. This could be because he has developed a "theory of mouths;" he knows that putting food in his mouth stops him from feeling hungry so he might theorize that, if he puts food into other people's mouths, other people will feel full. More likely, Kalman is responding to the fact that I react to being fed by licking his fingers and making appreciative noises like the good primate I have evolved from. Kalman's brain has evolved to find this kind of social interaction to be even more pleasurable than throwing food on the floor, a perfectly reasonable option when lacking better alternatives, so he pursues altruism for his own selfish ends.

It can be hoped that Kalman's accidental altruism will come to serve as the basis for a more conscious form of altruism. His brain could develop a Pavlovian positive feedback loop from the mere act of causing other people to be fed regardless of whether they lick his fingers. As his frontal cortex develops, he will come to believe that there is something inherently virtuous about feeding other people. He will then, in the fashion of David Hume, use his considerable rational intellect to scout for people to feed in order to satisfy his subconscious passion.  

From an alternative perspective, like a good Adam Smith baby economist, Kalman maximizes his food utility. First, he feeds himself. If he is full he tries to trade his remaining food for love and affection. If there are no ready mouths in which to place the food he will use the food to educate himself on the movement of objects by throwing it on the floor. In the midst of this selfish calculation, we also see the development of Kalman as a good Adam Smith, of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, baby. He is not solely interested in his physical benefit but also cares about operating within a social framework in which the good opinion of others as expressed by getting his fingers licked.