I agree with this NY Times opinion essay by Lawrence Downes about the counterproductive abuse of the term Illegal Immigrant.

I acknowledge that a country should be able to control its borders and to determine who may not enter (mostly to deny entrance to dangerous people). It can also be a problem that the system taxes citizens to provide benefits to those who aren’t subject to those taxes. But, I think the problem is with the taxes and the benefit policies, not the people.

If you think that our system makes it too easy for people’s money to be taken and wasted by inefficiently conferring benefits on many who are undeserving, and thereby creating perverse incentives for further abuse…well so do I. I’ve thought so for many years. Let’s undo our idiotic systems. But, we shouldn’t blame immigrants for our mistakes. If immigrants taking benefits makes the unsustainability of our benefit programs apparent sooner, then maybe it’s a blessing in disguise that will hasten the moral and practical solution.

Most people do things that are illegal (speeding, jaywalking, gambling, etc.) Some things that are illegal are very bad, but many aren’t. I’d say crossing a border to seek a better life in a freer, wealthier, land is generally a good and brave thing to do; not something that should generate the hatred and fear that many seem to give it.

I don’t understand why it should be so important to people where someone was born, or whether he complied with some arcane bureaucratic laws (that are probably much more difficult to comply with than what our ancestors faced).

I understand the fears of cultural changes, but I think they are overblown. People do assimilate, eventually. And, if they don’t learn English perfectly, their children probably will, and their children’s children almost certainly will. People all over the world are learning English, because it’s so valuable and important to be able to trade and communicate with us. Why wouldn’t people here recognize these advantages?

And, if our culture changes…so what? There’s nothing sacred about the way it is now, or was at some imagined perfect time in the recent past. Change is good, and inevitable in any case.

So, I have to agree with those who claim that calling people illegal is often a code for xenophobic racism.

Market Ups and Downs

The stock market went down quite a bit last Friday.

I often notice that this upsets lots of people who, like me, contribute regularly to broad index funds for retirement savings.

Unless one thinks that the loss indicates a severe, lasting, problem with the economy, I don’t think that this makes much sense. I admit that I like to look at my balances, and reflexively prefer to see higher paper-values to lower ones. But, a little thought helps me get over this reaction and realize that these drops are nothing to worry about.

The way I like to look at it is that one should remember the adage that it’s good to “Buy low and sell high.” One should consider whether he expects his near-term trades to be predominantly buying or selling. If it’s buying, then a temporary drop in prices is a good thing, because you’ll be getting a bargain on your purchases. As long as one expects the market to rise in the long term, he should be happy, as a buyer, to see some low prices along the way.

Libertarians Rising

Michael Kinsley is a smart guy, and has written an interesting essay for Time Magazine: Libertarians Rising. Go read it. It’s short and I’ll wait.

The good news is that the success (relative to most people’s expectations) of the Ron Paul campaign has caused many people to reconsider libertarianism and the benefits to the major parties of appealing to those of us who favor libertarian policies. I’m not ready to talk about anything like the historical inevitibility of libertarian success, but I’m always happy to see hopeful signs of progress.

I’m also happy to see Kinsley write disparagingly about “Communitarians” and positively about libertarians:

And every time the Democrats lose an election, critics scold that they must put less emphasis on the sterile rights of individuals and more emphasis on responsibilities to society. That is, they should become less libertarian and more communitarian. Usually this boils down to advocating mandatory so-called voluntary national service by people younger than whoever is doing the advocating.

Libertarians and communitarians (to continue this unjustified generalizing) are different character types. Communitarians tend to be bossy, boring and self-important, if they’re not being over sweetened and touchy-feely. Libertarians, by contrast, are not the selfish monsters you might expect.

I won’t quibble with everything I disagree with in the essay (which Kinsley acknowledges is generalizing), but I feel that I must point out that the opposite of libertarianism is not communitarianism. See this article about their compatibility. The opposite of libertarianism is statism. Many libertarians favor many of the communitarian values, and in contrast to Kinsley’s characterization of them as “Smart loners, many of them rich and some of them complacently Darwinian, convinced that they don’t need society–nor should anyone else,” they often sing the praises of civil society (you’ll find this in many Cato articles, like this one).

What we oppose is the idea that the way to promote these values is through coercive state action.

A Good Veto

I’m glad president Bush vetoed the bloated SCHIP (State Children’s Health Insurance Program) bill, and I hope the veto is not overridden.

While he was wrong to favor any increase in the program, he was right to try to hold the line somewhere. He vetoed this bill for good reasons.

Maybe some more good will come from his current situation, and he’ll find the courage to make more principled vetoes.