Politics

Open borders

There are endless straw-men arguments about borders, at least from the loudest voices on the topic. Those loudest voices are, from my point of view, all on one side: The side of wanting more restrictions imposed.

I am aware that the loudest voices do not represent all, and I don’t want to nut-pick, so here is also a link to YouTuber Lindybeige who also thinks the arguments are straw men but whose position is so different to mine that they think my position is one of the straw men. (TLDW: He’s inviting people to come up with a number between 0 and ∞ as an answer to “how many immigrants should there be?”)

I’m going to write something most of you will consider madness: I think the borders should be open. Totally open. No restrictions.

You may be flabbergasted by this. Possibly even as speechless as I was when someone I had previously respected had gone on an anti-immigration rant — he hated immigration and wanted the UK population to fall (he’s British, voted UKIP and Leave, and I don’t think he ever really grasped that that meant people like me moving out of areas like his, but no matter). One of his arguments was, and this is just paraphrasing despite my best effort to quote him: “Clearly a quadrillion people couldn’t fit in this country, so we shouldn’t accept any immigrants.”

(As an aside: not only are there not a quadrillion people in total, not only is population growth going down so there may never be, but if you extrapolate growth from current annual changes to the point where there are a quadrillion, then a quadrillion people happens about the same time humanity’s energy use is enough to make a new Earth-mass planet in about 6-7 days by matter-antimatter pair production — bonus irony points as the guy had recently become Christian and that’s a nicely biblical timeframe).

Quite a lot of the newspapers think my position is somehow common amongst their political opponents — it isn’t, and I’m sad about that. Most of the politicians seem to be happy to point to a random unimportant group (currently refugees, previously single mothers, before them the disabled, who in turn followed after ethnic groups including Irish and Jewish) and blame all their own failings on that group, so the majority blaming immigrants isn’t going to change until some other conveniently weak scapegoat emerges. (In the UK many Leave politicians seem to want to blame Remainers, but that’s not likely to work with such a narrow margin… at least, I hope it’s not likely to work).

Are these papers nut-picking when they talk about me, or not? (I don’t think I’m mad, just eccentric and independently minded, but who would call themselves mad?) Depends how well I can justify myself.

So, analogy time: Right now, anyone British can move freely across the England-Scotland border, and anyone American can freely move across the California-Nevada border. The laws are different in both these examples. Imagine that Scotland declared independence from the UK and California from the USA: Now the default is nobody with Scottish/Californian citizenship can cross the border to England/Nevada respectively — further arrangements have to be made first, before any crossings are allowed again, and even then at the whims of the governments on the other sides of those borders.

What’s changed? What about the situation means that it is now important to stop people crossing that border? Anything that applies to an existing border applies to that border, and vice-versa.

Military? You can spot an army, and use your own to defend yourself.

Criminals fleeing from you? Extradition is a thing. Even if it wasn’t, the USA already has different state-level and federal-level laws, and Scotland already has a different legal system from England-and-Wales. I don’t know if/how extradition gets involved in a dispute between states, nor between Scotland and England; only that in an extradition beyond the UK border, a Scottish judge doesn’t do exactly the same thing as an English one.

Criminals entering your country? Ditto, and if you’re sharing police records internationally this should be easy to do: use the current A.I.-driven surveillance (already present at UK border controls!) in normal CCTV cameras. Although, for some things, you might explicitly want to let them come without fear of extradition — Gay men fleeing nations where it’s illegal, for example.

Voting dominated by migrants? Same as the EU: tied to citizenship, not residency.

Service-tourism? (E.g. unemployment benefits, NHS)? Same as Germany: Demonstrate you can support yourself (“pay for your own health insurance” seems to be the main one) in order to get the ID card you need for basically all civil functions.

Locals not being able to get things because of all the migrants? (E.g. school places, hospital beds, jobs, houses)? The fear represents a total misunderstanding of economics, as migrants supply both sides of supply and demand equally, just like natives.

Overcrowding? Same as literally every country larger than a city-state: the same (free-market and other) economics that also stops the entire population of countries like the USA or the UK moving internally to “where the jobs are”. Yes, there is some movement, but this leads to the next criticism…

Brain drain in the countries people leave? Yeah, the best and the brightest move, while those who stay behind are those unable or unwilling to move. Generally asked in bad-faith, because those asking show no other interest in the well-being of these places, but that doesn’t mean I can dismiss it without thinking about it.

Actually, I’ll go further: every reason one country* would want immigration is also a reason it would want to prevent emigration. (*This applies to any geographic region, including a city within a country; Detroit, for a famous example.)

Is that your problem, as an immigration nation? I don’t know — but it’s a thing. Perhaps it’s a good thing, because it will force shrinking nations to make themselves more attractive to reduce departures? I can’t predict it, and this is just a thought.

It’s also where I’m going to stop this blog post and get on with updating my CV. I’m busy looking for work in a foreign country.

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AI, Minds, Philosophy, Politics

A.I. safety with Democracy?

Common path of discussion:

Alice: A.I. can already be dangerous, even though it’s currently narrow intelligence only. How do we make it safe before it’s general intelligence?

Bob: Democracy!

Alice: That’s a sentence fragment, not an answer. What do you mean?

Bob: Vote for what you want the A.I. to do 🙂

Alice: But people ask for what they think they want instead of what they really want — this leads to misaligned incentives/paperclip optimisers, or pathological focus on universal instrumental goals like money or power.

Bob: Then let’s give the A.I. to everyone, so we’re all equal and anyone who tells their A.I. to do something daft can be countered by everyone else.

Alice: But that assumes the machines operate on the same speed we do. If we assume that an A.G.I. can be made by duplicating a human brain’s connectome in silicon — mapping synapses to transistors — then even with no more Moore’s Law an A.G.I. would be out-pacing our thoughts by the same margin a pack of wolves outpaces continental drift (and the volume of a few dozen grains of sand).

Because we’re much too slow to respond to threats ourselves, any helpful A.G.I. working to stop a harmful A.G.I. would have to know what to do before we told it; yet if we knew how to make them work like that, then we wouldn’t need to, as all A.G.I. would stop themselves from doing anything harmful in the first place.

Bob: Balance of powers, just like governments — no single A.G.I can get too big, because all the other A.G.I. want the same limited resource.

Alice: Keep reading that educational webcomic. Even in the human case (and we can’t trust our intuition about the nature of an arbitrary A.G.I.), separation of powers only works if you can guarantee that those who seek power don’t collude. As humans collude, an A.G.I. (even one which seeks power only as an instrumental goal for some other cause) can be expected to collude with other similar A.G.I. (“A.G.I.s”? How do you pluralise an initialism?)


There’s probably something that should follow this, but I don’t know what as real conversations usually go stale well before my final Alice response (and even that might have been too harsh and conversation-stopping, I’d like to dig deeper and find out what happens next).

I still think we ultimately want “do what I meant not what I said“, but at the very least that’s really hard to specify and at worst I’m starting to worry that some (too many?) people may be unable to cope with the possibility that some of the things they want are incoherent or self-contradictory.

Whatever the solution, I suspect that politics and economics both have a lot of lessons available to help the development of safe A.I. — both limited A.I. that currently exists and also potential future tech such as human-level general A.I. (perhaps even super-intelligence, but don’t count on that).

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Politics

Cherry-manning? Nut picking

Creating a straw-man by cherry-picking extreme outliers of large data sets, e.g. using Caligula as ‘proof’ that the Roman Empire was uncivilised, and going on from that to say that all ideas and artefacts from the Roman Empire should be discarded.

(I can think of plenty of examples from the modern world, but if I actually name one then someone will misunderstand and/or believe the thing which I would call a straw-man and mistake the cherry-picking for a valid data-point — I’ve seen this happen quite a few times online).

There’s got to be a better name for this — it’s coincidentally the name of at least one real person — but I can’t think of one.

Edit: “Nut picking”, a neologism coined by Kevin Drum, Wikipedia attributes it to The Washington Monthly, (August 11, 2006).

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Politics

Irish border, WTO rules, Brexit

Disclaimer: I’m neither a lawyer nor involved in international trade, this is based on what I assume to be a massively over-simplified understanding of world trade rules.

The UK wants to leave the EU customs union. They are allowed to do this.

Leaving the EU customs union necessarily means that any goods crossing from the UK into the EU customs union will need to pass through customs checks. To stop this, the UK and the EU would have to agree (some sort of) trade deal — the UK does not have the power or the right to prevent this alone.

The UK has an agreement with the Republic of Ireland, the Good Friday Agreement, which reportedly means neither party is allowed to install customs checks on the border (does it? I’ve seen people claim that but I’ve not seen details). The terms of the Good Friday Agreement do not make it illegal for the UK to leave the EU customs union regardless, as there are ways to meet both requirements:

  1. The UK could blindly accept all goods from the EU.
  2. The border between the EU customs union can be somewhere other than the Northern Ireland/Republic of Ireland border:
    1. The Republic of Ireland could leave the EU.
    2. Northern Ireland can become independent from the UK.
    3. Northern Ireland can remain within the EU customs union even after the rest of the UK leaves.
    4. There could be a new internal border within Northern Ireland.

All of these have problems, the question is which problems you’re willing to deal with.

The UK could blindly accept all goods from the EU

World Trade Organisation rules say that (outside of free trade agreements), all trade must be on the same terms as the most favoured nation: if you drop tariffs for one nation, you must drop them for all; if you accept goods from one nation without checking them, you must do so for all; etc.

If the UK accepts all goods from the EU without checking them, then the UK is obliged to also accept all goods from everyone else, also without checking them.

This does not oblige the EU to accept goods coming from the UK, but would allow the UK to be following all the rules.

The Republic of Ireland could leave the EU

The Republic of Ireland has no desire to do this. (It might happen).

Northern Ireland can become independent from the UK / Northern Ireland can remain within the EU customs union even after the rest of the UK leaves

The UK government will probably fall if this happens. (It might happen).

There could be a new internal border within Northern Ireland

I don’t know enough about the politics of Northern Ireland to be sure, but isn’t this sort of thinking exactly what caused all the fireworks between India and Pakistan, between and inside seemingly half of the nations in Africa, the reason the Berlin Wall was a symbol of the Cold War, and one of the main reasons Northern Ireland didn’t immediately become peaceful the moment the Republic of Ireland became independent from the UK?


Obviously, the only acceptable course from the perspective of the UK government is to try to force the Republic of Ireland to leave the EU. Fortunately for the Republic of Ireland, the UK government is wildly incompetent.


Oh, one more problem:

The Good Friday Agreement wasn’t just with the Republic of Ireland, it also involved the total disarming of all paramilitary groups. The paramilitary groups reportedly dragged their feet with that disarming, so even if the governments agree, there may be an undesirable fan-feces interaction.

Advice? I suppose you could invest in armoured reinforcement manufacturers, but this isn’t going to be fun for anyone.

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Politics

EU

One of my memories growing up was the news of John Major vowing to veto every piece of EU legislation in retaliation for the BSE trade restrictions: http://articles.latimes.com/1996-06-22/news/mn-17472_1_european-union

It wasn’t very effective.

My father told me it had failed because it meant the UK was vetoing everything that the UK wanted to do as a member of the EU while also failing to prevent other member states from agreeing with each other to do things that only the UK stood in the way of.

What happens if we leave? Well, we don’t get so many chances to tell the EU decision makers what we want the EU to do while also failing to prevent other member states from agreeing with each other to do whatever they want.

Stay in? Well, a veto can be used more effectively that it was. Vetoing everything is just throwing a temper tantrum no more effective than holding your breath until you go purple — they know you’ll give in without them having to do anything. Vetoing just the stuff you don’t like? That can work.

We can’t just order the EU around like it’s one of our colonies. We can send our representatives there to negotiate our interests on our behalf (and we do), but the difference between a negotiator and a dictator is that negotiators can agree to bear costs — money, changes to the law, to keep troops away from certain places or in other places, and presumably just about anything else.

Claiming the EU “dictates” the laws of the UK is deceptive; we ask our people to negotiate the details of what the entire EU will do. We ask. Our people.

And if the result of that negotiation really sucks, we can say no in a multitude of ways — and I don’t just mean “Non”, “Nein” and so forth. We have vetoes. And we choose the specifics of the laws the negotiations asked for, giving us the power to frustrate the spirit of an agreement while keeping to its letter. And ultimately, we can invoke the same powers that a “leave” vote would invoke.

Of course, some of those ways of saying “no” are rubbish (just ask Major!) but that’s true for much of life: if your boss asks you to go to a conference in Qatar, you could say “No, I quit!” and look for another job, or you could say “I’m openly gay and they have anti-gay laws. Find someone else.”

Brexit? Well, it looks more like a teenager yelling “I hate you!” and slamming the door on their parents than a new graduate moving out of the family home for their first job — strong feelings, no appreciation for the benefits they have enjoyed nor the costs others have borne, and a plan for the future so vague it can only be described as “speculative”.

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