Answering Scott Adams on Immigration

Scott Adams asks, “I find myself wondering what legal immigrants think we should do about illegals? I have a feeling I would defer to their judgment.”

I disagree, for much the same reason that I would disagree were Scott to say, “I find myself wondering what major exporters think we should do about the Export-Import Bank? Or, what major sugar farmers think we should do about sugar subsidies? Or, what union organizers think we should do about minimum wage? I have a feeling I would defer to their judgment.” Legal immigrants are the beneficiaries of a government monopoly. Relaxed immigration restrictions would impact current legal immigrants most directly, assuming that the legal immigrants are about equal to potential immigrants in areas of job and language skills. Therefore they have a vested interest in keeping immigration difficult, except perhaps for close family members.

Warning: discussions of abortion and suicide below the fold.

The same post by Adams also discusses abortion, on which he would like a world where only women decide, collectively, whether having an abortion is deserving of punishment. Women are certainly more impacted by abortion legislation than men, but the aborted people (or “potential people” as some might say) are even more impacted. Ideally, we would like to know the counterfactual for every abortion — does that person have a net-positive life in a universe where they are not aborted? But while we can’t know the counterfactual, there are those who survived abortion, whose mothers wanted an abortion but waited too long, or who were abandoned. Certainly these people have emotional scars from such beginnings. The rate of suicide among them is likely  higher than the population on a whole (I didn’t look for a study but I’ll grant the assumption)– but it almost certainly doesn’t come near 50%, which would be a sign that a majority would have chosen not to be born. Even people with miserable lives rarely commit suicide.

Maybe suicide (and here I’m speaking purely materialistically) is just a mentally difficult task because biologically we are wired for survival. But that should be an argument against abortion. Most people, even people who are unwanted, would rather live than die. If you approach the world as a materialist, as Adams does, then it doesn’t matter that choices are driven by biological impulse. If you throw out the presumed preferences of aborted children because they biologically cannot commit suicide, even if they’d rather not be born, then you erode any standing for individual choice in any matter. You can force anyone to do anything you believe is best for them because you can assume they would have chosen it if they were perfectly rational. Forced sterilization? Surely, the benevolent technocrat says, if poor or mentally disable people could follow the same logic I follow, free from biological impulse, they would volunteer for it. I’m just doing what’s best for them. Or surely, the argument goes, the severely disable child, if he could comprehend the suffering he inflicts on his parents, would choose not to live any longer.

Abortion apologists try to get around the ethical implications by claiming that the unborn child, if it could observe the situation and rationally decide, would choose not to be born. But as I stated above, that’s not supported by the data or by logic.

So then, if the unborn child’s preferences matter on the issue of abortion, and if the unborn child prefers to live, is there still a standing for abortion in Adams’s framework? The population of everyone who is or ever would be a fetus is larger than the population of living and future women. If we suppose that virtually every unborn child prefers to be born, then in Adams’s framework of majoritarian ethics, abortion clearly loses. You might counter that unborn females would have the same preferences as adult women. But how many rational people would vote for a law that would kill 1% of people at random, even if they believe they’ll be better off in a less-populated world?

What about in individual cases? Is there a utilitarian tie-breaker to the majoritarian stalemate of one woman and one fetus (at least in cases where the mother is likely to survive pregnancy)? If we assume that the probability the fetus wants to live is 1, then the “equation” is (trauma to child of being aborted) + (trauma of abortion to mother) – (trauma to mother of giving birth), with a positive value disallowing abortion and a negative value allowing it. We could argue about the weights, but consider the somewhat analogous case of negligent manslaughter. We assume that the trauma to the victim of their life being cut short is greater than the trauma to the negligent person of being imprisoned for a finite period. I don’t think it’s any great leap to say that the expected value of being born and living is greater than the expected loss of carrying a child to term.

So if majoritarian and utilitarian ethics rule out abortion, the only resort to ethically justify abortion is to claim that the fetus is not a person. If only there were some way to illustrate the humanity of the unborn…

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