classical argument in favor of free immigration runs as follows:
Other things being equal, businesses go to low-wage areas, and labor
moves to high-wage areas, thus affecting a tendency toward the equalization
of wage rates (for the same kind of labor) as well as the optimal
localization of capital. An influx of migrants into a given-sized
high-wage area will lower nominal wage rates. However, it will not
lower real wage rates if the population is below its optimum size.
To the contrary, if this is the case, the produced output will increase
over-proportionally, and real incomes will actually rise. Thus,
restrictions on immigration will harm the protected domestic workers
qua consumers more than they gain qua producers. Moreover, immigration
restrictions will increase the "flight" of capital abroad
(the export of capital which otherwise might have stayed), still
causing an equalization of wage rates (although somewhat more slowly),
but leading to a less than optimal allocation of capital, thereby
harming world living standards all-around.
In addition, traditionally labor unions, and nowadays environmentalists,
are opposed to free immigration, and this should prima facie count
as another argument in favor of a policy of free immigration.
it is stated, the above argument in favor of free immigration is
irrefutable and correct. It would be foolish to attack it, just
as it would be foolish to deny that free trade leads to higher living
standards than does protectionism.
would also be wrongheaded to attack the above case for free immigration
by pointing out that because of the existence of a welfare state,
immigration has become to a significant extent the immigration of
welfare-bums, who, even if the United States, for instance, is below
her optimal population point, do not increase but rather decrease
average living standards. For this is not an argument against immigration
but against the welfare state. To be sure, the welfare state should
be destroyed, root and branch. However, in any case the problems
of immigration and welfare are analytically distinct problems, and
they must be treated accordingly.
problem with the above argument is that it suffers from two interrelated
shortcomings which invalidate its unconditional pro-immigration
conclusion and/or which render the argument applicable only to a
highly unrealistic – long bygone – situation in human
first shortcoming will only be touched upon. To libertarians of
the Austrian school, it should be clear that what constitutes "wealth"
and "well-being" is subjective. Material wealth is not
the only thing that counts. Thus, even if real incomes rise due
to immigration, it does not follow that immigration must be considered
"good," for one might prefer lower living standards and
a greater distance to other people over higher living standards
and a smaller distance to others.
a second, related shortcoming will be the focus here. With regard
to a given territory into which people immigrate, it is left unanalyzed
who, if anyone, owns (controls) this territory. In fact, in order
to render the above argument applicable, it is – implicitly
– assumed that the territory in question is unowned, and that
the immigrants enter virgin territory (open frontier). Obviously,
this can no longer be assumed. If this assumption is dropped, however,
the problem of immigration takes on an entirely new meaning and
requires fundamental rethinking.
For the purpose of illustration, let us first assume an anarcho-capitalist
society. Though convinced that such a society is the only social
order that can be defended as just, I do not want to explain here
why this is the case. Instead, I will employ it as a conceptual
benchmark, because this will help clear up the fundamental misconception
of most contemporary free immigration advocates.
land is privately owned, including all streets, rivers, airports,
harbors, etc. With respect to some pieces of land, the property
title may be unrestricted; that is, the owner is permitted to do
with his property whatever he pleases as long as he does not physically
damage the property owned by others. With respect to other territories,
the property title may be more or less severely restricted. As is
currently the case in some housing developments, the owner may be
bound by contractual limitations on what he can do with his property
(voluntary zoning), which might include residential vs. commercial
use, no buildings more than four stories high, no sale or rent to
Jews, Germans, Catholics, homosexuals, Haitians, families with or
without children, or smokers, for example.
under this scenario there exists no such thing as freedom of immigration.
Rather, there exists the freedom of many independent private property
owners to admit or exclude others from their own property in accordance
with their own unrestricted or restricted property titles. Admission
to some territories might be easy, while to others it might be nearly
impossible. In any case, however, admission to the property of the
admitting person does not imply a "freedom to move around,"
unless other property owners consent to such movements. There will
be as much immigration or non-immigration, inclusivity or exclusivity,
desegregation or segregation, non-discrimination or discrimination
based on racial, ethnic, linguistic, religious, cultural or whatever
other grounds as individual owners or associations of individual
Note that none of this, not even the most exclusive form of segregationism,
has anything to do with a rejection of free trade and the adoption
of protectionism. From the fact that one does not want to associate
with or live in the neighborhood of Blacks, Turks, Catholics or
Hindus, etc., it does not follow that one does not want to trade
with them from a distance. To the contrary, it is precisely the
absolute voluntariness of human association and separation –
the absence of any form of forced integration – that makes
peaceful relationships – free trade – between culturally,
racially, ethnically, or religiously distinct people possible.
an anarcho-capitalist society there is no government and, accordingly,
no clear-cut distinction between inlanders (domestic citizens) and
foreigners. This distinction comes into existence only with the
establishment of a government, i.e., an institution which possesses
a territorial monopoly of aggression (taxation). The territory over
which a government’s taxing power extends becomes "inland,"
and everyone residing outside of this territory becomes a foreigner.
State borders (and passports), are an "unnatural" (coercive)
institution. Indeed, their existence (and that of a domestic government)
implies a two-fold distortion with respect to peoples’ natural inclination
to associate with others. First, inlanders cannot exclude the government
(the taxman) from their own property, but are subject to what one
might call "forced integration" by government agents.
Second, in order to be able to intrude on its subjects’ private
property so as to tax them, a government must invariably take control
of existing roads, and it will employ its tax revenue to produce
even more roads to gain even better access to all private property,
as a potential tax source. Thus, this over-production of roads does
not involve merely an innocent facilitation of interregional trade
– a lowering of transaction costs – as starry-eyed economists
would have us believe, but it involves forced domestic integration
(artificial desegregation of separate localities).
Moreover, with the establishment of a government and state borders,
immigration takes on an entirely new meaning. Immigration becomes
immigration by foreigners across state borders, and the decision
as to whether or not a person should be admitted no longer rests
with private property owners or associations of such owners but
with the government as the ultimate sovereign of all domestic residents
and the ultimate super-owner of all their properties. Now, if the
government excludes a person while even one domestic resident wants
to admit this very person onto his property, the result is forced
exclusion (a phenomenon that does not exist under private property
anarchism). Furthermore, if the government admits a person while
there is not even one domestic resident who wants to have this person
on his property, the result is forced integration (also non-existent
under private property anarchism).
is now time to enrich the analysis through the introduction of a
few "realistic" empirical assumptions. Let us assume that
the government is privately owned. The ruler literally owns the
entire country within state borders. He owns part of the territory
outright (his property title is unrestricted), and he is partial
owner of the rest (as landlord or residual claimant of all of his
citizen-tenants real estate holdings, albeit restricted by some
kind of pre-existing rental contract). He can sell and bequeath
his property, and he can calculate and "realize" the monetary
value of his capital (his country).
monarchies – and kings – are the closest historical examples
of this form of government.
will a king’s typical immigration and emigration policy be? Because
he owns the entire country’s capital value, he will, assuming no
more than his self-interest, tend to choose migration policies that
preserve or enhance rather than diminish the value of his kingdom.
As far as emigration is concerned, a king will want to prevent the
emigration of productive subjects, in particular of his best and
most productive subjects, because losing them would lower the value
of the kingdom. Thus, for example, from 1782 until 1824 a law prohibited
the emigration of skilled workmen from Britain. On the other hand,
a king will want to expel his non-productive and destructive subjects
(criminals, bums, beggars, gypsies, vagabonds, etc.), for their
removal from his territory would increase the value of his realm.
For this reason Britain expelled tens of thousands of common criminals
to North America and Australia.
the other hand, as far as immigration policy is concerned, a king
would want to keep the mob, as well as all people of inferior productive
capabilities, out. People of the latter category would only be admitted
temporarily, if at all, as seasonal workers without citizenship,
and they would be barred from permanent property ownership. Thus,
for example, after 1880 large numbers of Poles were hired as seasonal
workers in Germany. A king would only permit the permanent immigration
of superior or at least above-average people; i.e., those, whose
residence in his kingdom would increase his own property value.
Thus, for example, after 1685 (with the revocation of the Edict
of Nantes) tens of thousands of Huguenots were permitted to settle
in Prussia; and similarly Peter the Great, Frederick the Great,
and Maria Theresia later promoted the immigration and settlement
of large numbers of Germans in Russia, Prussia, and the eastern
provinces of Austria-Hungary.
In brief, while through his immigration policies a king might not
entirely avoid all cases of forced exclusion or forced integration,
such policies would by and large do the same as what private property
owners would do, if they could decide who to admit and who to exclude.
That is, the king would be highly selective and very much concerned
about improving the quality of the resident human capital so as
to drive property values up, not down.
policies become predictably different, once the government is publicly
owned. The ruler no longer owns the country’s capital value, but
only has current use of it. He cannot sell or bequeath his position
as ruler; he is merely a temporary caretaker. Moreover, "free
entry" into the position of a caretaker government exists.
Anyone can, in principle, become the ruler of the country.
as they came into existence on a world-wide scale after World War
I offer historical examples of public government.
are a democracy’s migration policies? Once again assuming no more
than self-interest (maximizing monetary and psychic income: money
and power), democratic rulers tend to maximize current income, which
they can appropriate privately, at the expense of capital values,
which they cannot appropriate privately. Hence, in accordance with
democracy’s inherent egalitarianism of one-man-one-vote, they tend
to pursue a distinctly egalitarian – non-discriminatory –
emigration and immigration policy.
As far as emigration policy is concerned, this implies that for
a democratic ruler it makes little, if any, difference whether productive
or unproductive people, geniuses or bums leave the country. They
have all one equal vote. In fact, democratic rulers might well be
more concerned about the loss of a bum than that of a productive
genius. While the loss of the latter would obviously lower the capital
value of the country and loss of the former might actually increase
it, a democratic ruler does not own the country. In the short run,
which most interests a democratic ruler, the bum, voting most likely
in favor of egalitarian measures, might be more valuable than the
productive genius who, as egalitarianism’s prime victim, will more
likely vote against the democratic ruler. For the same reason, a
democratic ruler, quite unlike a king, undertakes little to actively
expel those people whose presence within the country constitutes
a negative externality (human trash, which drives individual property
values down). In fact, such negative externalities – unproductive
parasites, bums, and criminals – are likely to be his most
As far as immigration policies are concerned, the incentives and
disincentives are likewise distorted, and the results are equally
perverse. For a democratic ruler, it also matters little whether
bums or geniuses, below or above-average civilized and productive
people immigrate into the country. Nor is he much concerned about
the distinction between temporary workers (owners of work permits)
and permanent, property owning immigrants (naturalized citizens).
In fact, bums and unproductive people may well be preferable as
residents and citizens, because they cause more so-called "social"
problem," and democratic rulers thrive on the existence of
such problems. Moreover, bums and inferior people will likely support
his egalitarian policies, whereas geniuses and superior people will
not. The result of this policy of non-discrimination is forced integration:
the forcing of masses of inferior immigrants onto domestic property
owners who, if they could have decided for themselves, would have
sharply discriminated and chosen very different neighbors for themselves.
Thus, the United States immigration laws of 1965, as the best available
example of democracy at work, eliminated all formerly existing "quality"
concerns and the explicit preference for European immigrants and
replaced it with a policy of almost complete non-discrimination
Indeed, though rarely noticed, the immigration policy of a democracy
is the mirror image of its policy toward internal population movements:
toward the voluntary association and dissociation, segregation and
desegregation, and the physical distancing and approximating of
various private property owners. Like a king, a democratic ruler
will promote spatial over-integration by over-producing the "public
good" of roads. However, for a democratic ruler, unlike a king,
it will not be sufficient that everyone can move next door to anyone
else on government roads. Concerned about his current income and
power rather than capital values and constrained by egalitarian
sentiments, a democratic ruler will tend to go even further. Through
non-discrimination laws – one cannot discriminate against Germans,
Jews, Blacks, Catholics, Hindus, homosexuals, etc. – the government
will want to open even the physical access and entrance to everyone’s
property to everyone else. Thus, it is hardly surprising that the
so-called "Civil Rights" legislation in the United States,
which outlawed domestic discrimination on the basis of color, race,
national origin, religion, gender, age, sexual orientation, disability,
etc., and which thereby actually mandated forced integration, coincided
with the adoption of a non-discriminatory immigration policy; i.e.,
mandated inter-national desegregagtion (forced integration).
current situation in the United States and in Western Europe has
nothing whatsoever to do with "free" immigration. It is
forced integration, plain and simple, and forced integration is
the predictable outcome of democratic – one-man-one-vote –
rule. Abolishing forced integration requires a de-democratization
of society, and ultimately the abolition of democracy. More specifically,
the authority to admit or exclude should be stripped from the hands
of the central government and re-assigned to the states, provinces,
cities, towns, villages, residential districts, and ultimately to
private property owners and their voluntary associations. The means
to achieve this goal are decentralization and secession (both inherently
un-democratic, and un-majoritarian). One would be well on the way
toward a restoration of the freedom of association and exclusion
as it is implied in the idea and institution of private property,
and much of the social strife currently caused by forced integration
would disappear, if only towns and villages could and would do what
they did as a matter of course until well into the nineteenth century
in Europe and the United States: to post signs regarding entrance
requirements to the town, and once in town for entering specific
pieces of property (no beggars or bums or homeless, but also no
Moslems, Hindus, Jews, Catholics, etc.); to kick out those who do
not fulfill these requirements as trespassers; and to solve the
"naturalization" question somewhat along the Swiss model,
where local assemblies, not the central government, determine who
can and who cannot become a Swiss citizen.
What should one hope for and advocate as the relatively correct
immigration policy, however, as long as the democratic central state
is still in place and successfully arrogates the power to determine
a uniform national immigration policy? The best one may hope for,
even if it goes against the "nature" of a democracy and
thus is not very likely to happen, is that the democratic rulers
act as if they were the personal owners of the country and as if
they had to decide who to include and who to exclude from their
own personal property (into their very own houses). This means following
a policy of utmost discrimination: of strict discrimination in favor
of the human qualities of skill, character, and cultural compatibility.
specifically, it means distinguishing strictly between "citizens"
(naturalized immigrants) and "resident aliens" and excluding
the latter from all welfare entitlements. It means requiring as
necessary, for resident alien status as well as for citizenship,
the personal sponsorship by a resident citizen and his assumption
of liability for all property damage caused by the immigrant. It
implies requiring an existing employment contract with a resident
citizen; moreover, for both categories but especially that of citizenship,
it implies that all immigrants must demonstrate through tests not
only (English) language proficiency, but all-around superior (above-average)
intellectual performance and character structure as well as a compatible
system of values – with the predictable result of a systematic
pro-European immigration bias.
Hoppe [send him mail] is distinguished
fellow at the Ludwig von Mises Institute
and founder and president of the Property
and Freedom Society. His books include Democracy:
The God That Failed
Myth of National Defense.
Visit his website.
1999 Hans-Hermann Hoppe