A week ago Newsweek blogger Mickey Kaus argued that we should reduce income inequality by prohibiting poor people from immigrating.  Will Wilkinson made the appropriate analogy:

Did you know that nation-level income inequality would drop if the government herded all the poor people onto boats and dropped them off on a distant island?

Kaus responded to criticism:

I’m happy to acknowledge a commitment to moral nationalism. Wilkinson has a plausible but extreme and eccentric libertarian position that we have no moral obligation to help fellow nationals before we help everyone else on the planet, because he views borders as a “global system of socio-economic apartheid.” Well, OK. Let’s vote!

This is a bizarre way to put it.  Kaus is not proposing active “help for fellow nationals” – he is proposing coercion and prohibition against desperately poor people in order to manipulate the distribution of domestic wages.  Kaus needs to believe both that “we” (who?) should help Americans first and that we should “help” some Americans by depriving immigrants of their freedom to live or work here.  Is it legitimate to help (some) Americans by sending soldiers to prohibit poor immigrants from peacefully doing business with consenting American adults?  By sending police to hunt them down and drag them away their homes here if they do?

Kaus says he doesn’t really care about incomes, he cares about “social equality”:

I’m interested in income inequality because at the extremes it can undermine social equality, our sense that we are the equal of our fellows. Social equality is not an economic concept.

[Isn’t it better] to live in a series of political subdivisions within which a rule of equal respect conditions all social relations?

Kaus wants rigid arbitrary geographical restrictions on all human beings in order to engineer emotions of “social equality” (I doubt the term has any meaning).  Even Kaus’s goal strikes me as a creepy attempt at thought control, but most people don’t share my moral intuitions about this sort of thing.  The means to his goal are worse.  It would be too depressing to dig up pre-Civil Rights arguments defending racial segregation as a way to ensure “social equality” or “social relations”, but I claim that the injustice is parallel.

Kaus wants to know whether it is “better” to live in a rich society with income inequality, or a poor one without it. Obviously most immigrants seem to prefer wealth, and Kaus hasn’t moved to Africa yet.  But why does Kaus think that there needs to be one answer to this question?  Discard the notion that the United States is the only “society” worth thinking about, and you realize that people can make their own decisions about what sort of place they want to live in.  A society can be as small as your neighborhood, maybe as large as a city. There is no need to “zone” foreigners out of a third of North America.