One life. Cost: Unknown. Effect: Global?

I just watched the video in the linked Bloomberg article…

And at about 2:05…
“You know this technology could be ultimately used to also protect American lives, it’s kind of a pleasing your employees vs. protecting your country question here and what role corporates have to play in that, in defending the country working with the government. I mean… where do you draw the line here?” - “Yeah it’s a very tough line to draw…”

It’s moments like this that make America scary.

American lives are worth no more than any other human lives. Please explain to me why I shouldn’t put an American who uses the words “saving American lives” in that way in exactly the same category as a white person who says “saving white lives”.

Given that Google is one of the most prestigious places on the whole planet to work at as a software engineer, I would be very surprised if Google’s top talent was 100% American.

Of course, not all Americans will want to develop more weapons for their own military. The idea that it is an ethical necessity to do so seems very totalitarian to me.

In general, the idea that all resources of a society should be dedicated to supporting the war effort is called “total war”, and it’s not a nice thing.

So no, it’s not a “very tough line to draw”.


While that’s a noble sentiment, the fact that I am more than willing to pay taxes (which benefits some 30 million Canadians), but unwilling to give away significant amounts more (to benefit the rest of the world) puts lie to that.

This doesn’t mean that we have to embrace the concept that the closer connection (be it by blood, culture, or even citizenship) we have to to someone, the more we value them. But failing to acknowledge this basic psychological truth produces policy that fails or alienates.

You don’t get water uphill by pretending that it doesn’t run downhill.


When you pay Canadian taxes, you are helping Canadians. When you refuse to pay more, you are refusing to help Austrians, which is fine, because we pay our taxes, too. It’s not a zero-sum game.
(But there are other countries that really could use some of our money, so things aren’t perfect).

On the other hand, the only way to save a life with a weapon is to end or threaten to end someone else’s life. And most systems of ethics see a distinction between refusing to go out of your way to help people, and actually harming other people for your own gain. I really want people to require more reason than “they’re not Americans” to justify it. So I might give “saving innocent Americans from evil terrorists” a pass. But a plain “saving American lives” fails to specify whose lives may be sacrificed to do so. Maybe bomb some country to give a boost to American weapons manufacturers, who then end up employing a few more Americans who then get health insurance that might actually save their lives? Great, we’re saving American lives, let’s do it!

True, to a certain extent. And then, we set moral standards for each other, which run contrary to some basic psychological truths and actually make us better people.
So we call people who vote for politicians on the basis of what they will do to help white people, “racists”. And we keep reminding people that this is a bad thing, so hardly any decent people anywhere are now OK with being called “racist”. And yes, the people who vote for the likes of Trump, Salvini (Italy) or Strache (Austria) do feel alienated by “politically correct” policies that they think put illegal immigrants above “people like themselves”.
So why do we keep calling the racists out when they voice their racism? Are we trying to force people to pretend that water runs uphill? Or do we actually believe that calling out racist rhetoric will help reduce racism and make people, on average, care more about people who don’t happen to have the exact same skin colour as themselves?

Countries are packed more tightly in Europe. So there are unwritten rules about what is nice to say about another country, and what is considered offensive. And using rhetoric that implies that only the lives of your own country’s citizens matter is offensive. Very offensive. It’s not just “politically incorrect”, it’s serious nationalist shit. And given the fact that nationalism has killed more people than most other -isms combined, I will stick with my judgement.



And on the whole, I agree with everything you said.

I just worry that if we really push the psychology that hard, that far, right now, we risk rejection of our entire platform.

Trans-nationalism (and real trans-nationalism, not the “people within 50% of our GDP/person” variety) is a project that will take decades if not generations. Since wealth is culture to a large extent, it will also almost certainly require a gradual merging of the living standards between the developed world and the rest of the world.

I suspect my children (and my children’s children) will probably have their standard of living drop 50%, while the undeveloped world increases 500% to meet somewhere closer to the middle. At that point trans-nationalism becomes a real possibility as we have a lot more in common with, for example, the rural villager in India, and we can internalize why we in the global 1% should be paying 80% taxes to directly support those in the global bottom 10%.

But for now, I’ll push for getting the consensus to accept that our moral responsibility includes lives beyond our own citizenry, even if we don’t countenance opening our borders fully (which is pretty much a table stakes for acting as if all lives are equally valuable).

Ah, I see where our disagreement lies, and I find that interesting.

You’re talking about “real” trans-nationalism, and you’re saying that opening borders fully is a necessary part of treating all lives as equally valuable.
In simplistic terms, this puts you solidly to the left of myself on the political spectrum - I wasn’t asking for real trans-nationalism, and I don’t think opening borders fully is a good or necessary idea in general (that discussion belongs elsewhere, though).

You seem to be putting my opposition to this “saving American lives” rhetoric in the same category as asking for real-transnationalism as you define it, whereas I put it in the category of demanding basic decency. Which puts you solidly to the right of me.

This is confusing :slight_smile:

I do suspect it’s a Europe/North America thing. A continent of almost fifty different independent nations is bound to develop a different etiquette for talking about the citizens of other countries than a continent of three nations. And countries founded on immigration are bound to develop a different way of thinking about immigration than countries founded on a few centuries of rearranging national borders to match ethnic groups and ethnic groups to match national borders.


Honestly, I’m not either. I’m a greedy SOB who doesn’t want to lose most of his toys that I have only by virtue of being born in the developed world, despite easily being in the global 1%.

By any ethical measure of things I’m probably an 8/10 on the selfish scale, but being on the left, I’m fighting for a society that is way more egalitarian - a 7/10. (i.e. more equality, but only with rich nations like mine - no fair sharing all my income with the poor 80% of the world.)

However, I do try to call a spade a spade, and avoid sugar-coating my greediness, which leaves me a bit more sensitive to claims of how we need true egalitarianism without acknowledging the cost of egalitarianism to those of us in the global elite (global 1 percenter = $34K household income)

Do you truly believe that this would not increase global welfare? I’m not a fan of open borders because I’m a greed-head and I value my and my 30 million fellow citizen’s welfare over the vast increase in welfare that could be had for maybe 300 million (along with the much higher taxes necessary to handle it), but I can’t rationally deny what the ethical course of action would be if I truly valued all lives equally.

(I am, of course, fine with the immigration levels we currently enjoy, which correspond to about 1% of our population a year - or about 3 times U.S. levels. But in any realistic terms, that’s not coming close to levels that could be considered treating foreigner’s lives as valuable as our own.)

To be clear, I was reacting to “all lives are equal”, not your opposition to the “saving American lives” rhetoric. The former seemed to signal a virtue that very few of us (outside of a few Libertarians, oddly enough) are willing to pay for.

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Not as much as you might think…


There’s quite a bit of productivity being siphoned off by the billionaires. And there is a lot of human creativity waiting to be tapped in the global south.


There are lots of good reasons to fight for decreasing intra-country inequality. So we’re probably sympatico with respect to goals.

But let’s face ethical facts - the developed world has been “siphoning off” the productivity of the entire bloody world for centuries - we’re a huge birth-based global aristocracy. So let’s not pretend there’s huge amounts of ethical daylight between us and those despised billionaires.

We on the left also also lose a ton of ethical brownie points by pretending that most of the world doesn’t count.

Let’s fight for improvement, but let’s get real - we’re fighting for what makes things better for us personally (which just happens to be a small, but necessary ethical improvement).

So a giant yes to greater equality goals, but a no to pretending we’re not the elite, just because there are people even more elite above us.


Hardly anyone voluntarily pays taxes for countries where they don’t live (or work). Most people wouldn’t pay any more taxes than they owe. Paying tax is not evidence that people value outsiders less than their fellow citizens.

I pay every cent of tax I owe, and not a cent more. And I am strongly against killing even one foreign citizen in the name of maintaining the perception or reality that America is strong. Killing hundreds of thousands of citizens of other countries to avenge the 3000 Americans killed in 9/11 makes me sick. For me it really isn’t a grey area at all. In fact my morality demands that if someone has to be killed, it is more moral to kill one of our own than an outsider. I would much rather those hundreds of thousands we killed be Americans. Not only does it provide a check against devaluing life, but it is about taking responsibility and not externalizing human costs of our actions. If (and when) drone attacks on American soil start happening, we will wake up to the costs of our disregard for human life.


I’m of the same opinion. For me, I think the issue is that I don’t expect to live long enough to see the second order effects of an egalitarian world (so many more scientists, engineers, philosophers, etc. speeding up progress) to outweigh the first-order decline.

Except for anarchists and straw men erected by right-wingers, progressives and many liberals aren’t calling for fully open borders. What many of us are calling for as a matter of governance is global movement of labour that approaches the ease of global movement of goods and of capital. There are restrictions in place to control the flow of all of them but those on labour are more onerous by many orders of magnitude, not only to address practical and reasonable issues but also to serve the agendas of xenophobic racists and oligarchs and “slow AIs” and authoritarians. Removing the barriers that cater to them won’t create the Nirvana of instant global equality but it will have salutary effects in that direction.

Establishment conservatives and Third-Way liberals would prefer to frame the issue as a binary one: what we have now or totally open borders. Right-wing populists propose a third option of protectionism (accompanied by isolationism) across the board – via draconian immigration regimes, via trade wars, and eventually (when a currency tanks) via currency export controls.

[note to @orenwolf: this interesting sub-thread might be better split off into its own topic]


I think this falls apart when we consider the extent to which “standard of living” has, in the last century and a half, changed from being a matter of technical possibility to political viability. Food, power, housing, etc… the question is no longer whether we can produce enough of it. No one in the US goes hungry because food production is too low. I’m not a technological determinist, and I don’t think technology will solve all our problems. But technology has raised the floor on poverty, assuming a basic amount of humanity on a policy level.
Decrease in quality of life in the US is very real, but a result of factors that are a) political (by which I mean a matter of policy) and b) technological (e.g. industrialization of third world countries, automation, etc). If we lean into the shift towards a service and information economy, we can come out on top. Bruised, sure, but on top nonetheless.


I’d add c) environmental (i.e. the effects of global warming). But a) is critical. The postwar economic anomaly in North America and, for a shorter duration, elsewhere in the West was not going to last forever. In fact it began winding down at least a decade ago, and a lot of the hoarding and ladder-pulling and wall-building behaviour we see in the U.S. now as wealth and opportunity concentrates upward is a reaction to that.

More to your point, that behaviour is also directly enabled by economic policy decisions made (and supported) over the past 30-40 years ago by American born before approx. 1964 who were too selfish, self-deluded, and complacent to see their logical outcome. The same can be said about the effects of global warming, where bad policy decisions were put in place by the same group at the expense of their children.

To be honest, though, I don’t know if a service and information economy is going to cut it. For various reasons, and especially if policy makers continue to act like it’s still 1992, that leaves about 80% of the U.S. population in the roles of precariat and unnecessariat. Both establishment parties in the U.S. have come to the conclusion that some sort of UBI will have to be put in place. I would prefer to see a more equitable one approaching Fully Automated Luxury Communism increasingly suspect it will be a neoliberal one meant to prop up a sham consumer economy and continue to concentrate wealth upward to the top 1%.

Given that such a UBI would depend on the elimination of all other social safety nets, my suspicion that this is the direction we’re headed was only increased by this recent story, since it’s easier to eliminate one mega-agency than it is a dozen:

Do keep in mind that I’m quite a long way to the left of US-style “progressives”.

“Overthrow Western capitalism and dismantle all empires” is pretty much what I’m aiming for.

OTOH, I do think that the situation is much less zero-sum than @tlwest is framing it as. The zero-sum argument relies upon an assumption that the current arrangement of Western dominance and exploitation represents maximum efficiency.

I’d argue that it very much does not; history, psychology and sociology offer plenty of demonstrations of the ways in which cooperative egalitarian organisations outperform extractive hierarchies.

The increasing productivity of the industrialised world did not stop in the 1970s; it was just diverted to the parasitic billionaire class.

Also, even if we set aside the billionaire issue: that increasing productivity has not yet been made available to the developing world. Some of it is due to profligate energy use, sure, and that will need revision due to climate change. But a lot of that productivity is due to education, automation, political stability, etc.

Even within the constraints of climate change, the global south could be a lot more productive than it currently is. They aren’t poor due to inherent lack of virtue, they’re poor because centuries of imperialism made them so.


Where am I framing it as zero-sum? I’m arguing the opposite and specifically referring to things like wage stagnation in the later comment on bad policy over the past 35 years.


Whoops, sorry; I got your argument and @tlwest’s mixed up in my head while I was writing…

Will edit for clarity.


“Abolish ICE Open All Borders”

I’m certainly onboard with abolishing ICE (and the DHS while we’re at it).

I would point out, though, that borders are already effectively open for wealthy transnational individuals and slow AIs (including non-Western ones). If you have money to invest or spend and don’t appear to be taking jobs from the locals or welfare benefits from the state even the most authoritarian and repressive regimes will generally welcome you to stay a while (and might give you a passport, too). William Gibson’s maxim about the future is in effect here.

While completely open borders would do a lot to stop race-to-the-bottom offshoring it wouldn’t necessarily halt increasing global concentration of wealth and inequality and, absent a one-world government committed to egalitarianism, might exacerbate it.

Since I don’t see nation-states (and the borders that play a large part in defining them) vanishing anytime soon, for the moment I’ll settle for more streamlined paths to citizenship and for international trade treaties that as a universal goal allow workers to cross the borders of party states with the same ease that money and goods do. No internment camps would be kind of nice, too.

Western capitalism as opposed to what other sort of capitalism? I doubt you’re a proponent of Asian-style state capitalism which is also rife with cronyism and rent-seeking. Is there a non-Western form of capitalism you think is sustainable that not enough people are discussing?

Empires, of course, we can all do without. We’re watching the end of the American one right now and all the military spending in the world won’t change that.

Kinda the point; in my view, capitalism, white supremacy and European imperialist dominance are all part of the same thing. To cite one of my standard Akala quotes:

The Western empires are already disintegrating; the current mess is a consequence of their death throes.

The West has a choice; either peacefully accept that the era of Euro-American dominance is over, or destroy the world in an attempt to cling on to power.

Regarding “what form of capitalism to replace it with”…none. I’m a socialist, as I’m sure you’re aware.

As for what comes next…well, that’s for the people to work out collectively. I’m no fan of Marxist-Leninist “vanguard” bullshit; real socialism is a bottom-up and democratic thing.


That’s why I found your use of “Western” capitalism confusing. Most socialists like yourself don’t have any use for capitalism of any sort (including non-Western forms). I’ll assume you mean any capitalism grounded in the the 18th-century Western philosophical thought of Smith and Hume (and also the 19th century Marxist critique which further clarified it) from which industrial and then modern capitalism (Western and Asian, etc.) emerged.

Anarchists (and other libertarian socialist groups like the SPGB) are also not calling for open borders, as that would imply a belief that nation-states should exist. The implications of that would probably make the right-wingers (and left leaning nationalists) freak out more than just the idea that there should be open borders though.