The Fallacy of Open Immigration

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is more common than for well-intentioned people to believe that
if everybody just does what is right (as they see it), nothing but
good can possibly result.

have always been skeptical about that assumption. They know, for
example, that wars have always been fought for causes believed to
be right. The vast fabric of the modern welfare state was created
to ensure proper care for the poor and needy. Yet very terrible
things have resulted from the impulse to assert the right through
warfare and to create the right through social engineering. This,
more than anything else, has caused thinking men and women to look
for ways of limiting, rather than increasing, the power of the state
and, with it, the bad effects of good intentions.

But libertarians
themselves have not always succeeded in resisting the allure of
good intentions, the assumption that there will be no unfortunate
consequences of our good ideas. The best example I know is the attempt
by some libertarians (not a majority, but a sizable and vocal minority)
to ignore any bad effects that may result from open immigration
– a policy that they favor on moral grounds, considering it
an obvious expression of our faith in individual liberty. Many libertarians
who speak and write about this issue scorn the view that immigration
could be anything other than a stimulation to the economy and a
vindication of universal human rights.

I deny that
it is either one. I believe that under current circumstances the
bad effects of open, or even large-scale, immigration vastly outnumber
its good effects. Further, I dispute the proposition that anyone
has a right to claim membership in a body politic simply by moving
into the space it occupies.

I’m going
to outline my reasons. But first I want to observe that there are
certain debates in which practically nobody, on either side, can
conceive of any sincere opposition to his or her own views. Immigration
is one of those debates. Opponents of open borders are routinely
amazed and angered to discover the existence of arguments against
their view. Proponents of open borders react in the same way. Neither
group shows any remarkable ability to focus on what the other group
is saying. Both prefer to restate their own opinions and call their
opponents names.

The name that
supporters of open immigration most frequently call their opponents
is “racist” – as if every country that has more restrictive
immigration laws than the United States (and almost all of them
do) were manifestly “racist” in its intentions. If you are a supporter
of open immigration, I can’t demand that you keep your temper and
refrain from calling me a word like that. But I hope you do. Then
maybe something like a real discussion can emerge.

Let’s Talk

arguments for open borders fall into two groups: economic and moral.
I’ll consider the economic arguments first, despite the fact that
they almost always function as supplements to the underlying moral

Few people
want to keep foreign doctors, engineers, computer scientists, and
financial magnates out of the United States. Most of the economic
arguments for immigration are therefore defenses of immigration
by poor and unskilled persons. Proponents of open borders insist
that unskilled foreign workers contribute vastly more to the American
economy than they cost, resting their case on the idea that “immigrants
work hard and create wealth.” Some also point out that a large supply
of cheap labor makes the prices of certain other commodities cheaper,
thereby making more money available for consumers to invest on other
things, to the benefit of the whole economy. Others try to avoid
that argument, for fear of alienating American workers who don’t
want their own wages to decline. These proponents bring forth a
third argument: “Immigrants do work that Americans refuse to do.”

Remember this
argument the next time you watch your garbage being collected. Americans
are perfectly willing to collect garbage. They are also perfectly
willing to cook meals, prune flowers, or harvest vegetables –
so long as someone is willing to pay them enough. If all immigration
suddenly became legal, immigrants would enjoy the same wage scales
as native-born workers. They would compete for the same jobs, join
the same labor unions, and be subject to the same labor laws and
the same rates of taxation as everybody else. In short, their wages
would rise, and there would no longer be any work that “Americans
won’t do.”

It is true,
of course, that the existence of a large and growing supply of unskilled
workers tends to reduce prices – especially the price of lawn
mowing, Tyson’s chicken, and certain kinds of fruits and vegetables.
But if you think that the more unskilled laborers we have, the larger
and more dynamic the economy will be, you have a strange idea about
the production of wealth. When I have my car washed, some of the
work is done by unskilled labor, but as much as possible is done
by machines. If more human squirters and swabbers were available,
I’m sure that the price of their labor would go down, and at some
point the machines would be completely replaced by muscles. The
same might be said about, say, the sweeping of streets or the growing
of crops. I don’t believe, however, that a low-wage, labor-intensive
economy is preferable in any way to a machine economy, paying high
wages to well-educated people. If you believe that, you belong in
the pre-industrial age.

Recently the
mayor of Los Angeles, trying to speak to America on behalf of all
Mexican immigrants, shouted triumphantly to a rally of open-immigration
supporters: “We [sic] cook your food! We [sic] clean your toilets!”
People like the mayor are the last supporters of the labor theory
of value. They think that wealth results automatically from toil.
It doesn’t. And great increases in wealth never do. They result
from the kind of work that is done by people who are highly skilled
and, ordinarily, highly paid. Our immigration policy should target
the entrepreneurs, the professionals, the wealth producers, and
make it easy for them to come to America – supposing, as I
do, that doctors and software engineers do something more for the
economy than the guys behind the counter of the local 7-11.

Do we have
to choose the kind of workers who should be invited in? Yes, we
do. I will return to that theme. Before doing so, I want to examine
another issue that proponents of open borders usually don’t want
to think about: the net contributions of unskilled laborers to the
actual American economy. Despite all the talk about the economic
contributions of unskilled labor, few unskilled immigrants contribute
anything equal to what they extract from the unwilling taxpayer.

I’m not saying
this simply because illegal immigrants generally avoid paying income
taxes. Imagine an unskilled laborer who has come here legally, just
as proponents of open borders wish that all unskilled laborers could
do. Let’s say he makes $15,000 a year – an income that is above
the minimum wage, an income that is quite good enough to draw millions
of people here from almost anywhere in the world, provided we had
open borders. And let’s say that his wife works too (part time,
because of the kids) and makes $10,000 a year. That $25,000 is the
value they contribute to the American economy. Out of it, they pay
maybe $1,200 in sales taxes, $500 in the property taxes that are
included in their rent, $1,900 in Social Security payments, and
zip in income taxes. (Whatever taxes are extracted from their checks,
they get back in refunds. Actually, because of tax subsidies to
poor people, they will probably get back a good deal more than they
pay in, but to be extra-fair I won’t pause to calculate that.)

Of course,
the Social Security contributions are not invested and will never
earn enough to pay the total cost of the couple’s retirement benefits;
other taxpayers will have to do that. In this respect, the couple
is already a serious economic loss. The scale of that loss will
appear when they retire. Other losses are happening right now. Because
of their low income, man and wife are eligible for innumerable welfare
programs – from subsidized housing to medical assistance (if
they don’t have adequate private insurance, which they won’t) to
free legal aid to disaster aid if a storm comes through. Any physical
disability may result in hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills
to other taxpayers. Whenever the couple have a child, that’s $10,000
at the county hospital. Afterwards, it’s probably $5,000 a year
for a government-financed preschool, then $10,000 a year (the approximate
national average) in government funds for K-12 education.

Let’s not
even think about the public bills for their children’s college education.
Or – to look at the other side of the coin – for the social
problems of a population in which relatively few people qualify
for a college education. Some of those problems were pointed out
by Heather Mac Donald in an article in the Summer 2006 City Journal.
She noted that in 2002 half the Hispanic children born in the United
States were born out of wedlock. Further, “The illegitimacy rate
in Mexico is 38 percent; in El Salvador, it is 72 percent.” Immigration
from these countries currently seems to select for “social choices”
that are detrimental to society.

But to return.
Suppose that our unskilled couple has three children. This family
is putting $25,000 into the economy, taking $30,000 out of it, just
for K-12 education ($54,000, if they live in Los Angeles), and
paying only about $3,600 in taxes. Oh, but there are other things.
Dwellers in the city of Los Angeles sop up about $2,500 per year,
per capita, in city and county expenditures for . . . this and that.
Now the five-member family, if located in Los Angeles or some other
large city, is putting $25,000 into the economy and extracting $42,500
(and more, much more, that I haven’t tried to quantify). Net cost
to other taxpayers, once the family’s own tax contribution is figured
in: $38,900.

I haven’t
even mentioned the cost of new highways, airports, and rapid transit,
or anything else constructed by state and federal governments to
minister to America’s burgeoning population. Shall I add the increased
cost of car insurance resulting from an influx of people who are
too poor to buy it for themselves? Or the increasing expenditures
for security guards and other crime-protection devices in neighborhoods
inundated by unskilled, unassimilated poor folk? Or the rising costs
of homes in the places to which former residents of those neighborhoods
flee? Or the increased costs of controlling the formerly obscure
diseases now coursing across our frontiers from every economically
backward area of the world?

But the best
part is yet to come. Poor people, and ethnically self-identified
recent immigrants vote overwhelmingly for modern-liberal candidates,
and modern-liberal candidates, once elected, take as the whole duty
of life the effort to raise taxes and expand government programs
and entitlements. They seek to bless their constituency with affirmative
action programs, ethnic quotas, foreign-language maintenance programs,
socialist and race-conscious school curricula, and every other modern-liberal
institution that has any potential for transforming the United States
into the Canadian or Mexican version of a progressive country.

The expectation
of political support explains why modern-liberal politicians are
such vigorous proponents of immigration, why they are, even now,
trying to enlist illegal immigrants in the electoral process (see
“The Election of 666,” Reflections, August 2006 – a commentary
that prompted a nice little flurry of hate mail). The same goes
for labor unions. They used to be the biggest opponents of immigration.
No more. Now most of them are endorsing every open-borders proposal
that comes along. Why? Because they too have identified their natural
constituency: unskilled, politically unsophisticated workers, just
waiting to be organized in support of higher minimum wage laws,
universal social welfare, and whatever other political demands the
unions want to make.

Is it possible
that politicians and labor leaders know a few things that libertarian
theorists don’t? Is it possible that they have correctly identified
the current immigration from third-world countries as the ultimate
weapon in the attack on limited government?

Nor is this
mere politics, without any economic implications. Suppose, as frequently
happens, that an election in the state of California results in
a modest increase of one billion dollars in state expenditures,
and that the election is won by a margin of 100,000 votes. Every
voter within that margin has just cost the taxpayers one billion
dollars, or $10,000 per left-wing voter. One would think that libertarians
would do everything they could to decrease that margin. Instead,
many libertarians, even candidates of the Libertarian Party, join
with labor unions, Mexican nationalists, the hierarchy of the Roman
Catholic church, professional advocates of the welfare state, and
Bushite conservatives, hustling for any vote they think they can
get, in attempting to increase the number of voters who are
likely to approve the largest possible extension of the welfare

This would
be funny, if it were happening on some other planet.

But thus far,
we’ve been considering only the people who cross America’s borders
with the honorable intention of working and supporting themselves,
whether they actually manage to do so or not. This is the only group
that open-border advocates want to notice. Yet there are other immigrants
– lots of them. There are (1) the tens of millions of nonworking
relatives of the already-immigrated, tens of millions of people
whom a liberalized immigration policy would bring to this country
under the aegis of “family unification”; (2) the criminal class
that is already migrated here in enormous numbers; and (3) quite
simply, terrorists.

No one can
say how many people are included in the first group, though the
number is certainly stupendous. As for the second group, testimony
submitted in 2005 to a committee of the House of Representatives
by Richard Stana, Director of Homeland Security, reveals that at
the end of 2004 there were 49,000 criminal aliens in federal prisons
(15% more than at the end of 2001). Stana – with every sign
of unwillingness, employed as he is by the Bush administration –
also revealed the existence of 215,000 other criminal aliens for
whose incarceration the federal government reimbursed state and
local governments during fiscal year 2002 (“data represent only
a portion of the population”). Those, of course, are the few people
who got caught. Let’s make a conservative estimate of the costs
of their imprisonment (not of their crimes), and put the bill at
about $13,000,000,000. That is one of the small, ancillary, foot-notable
costs of uncontrolled immigration.

can also be an economic problem. A single terrorist attack can easily
cost this country tens or even hundreds of billions of dollars.
Which do you think is likelier to reduce the risk of terrorist penetration
of America – making it easier to get into the country, or harder?

We do not
know how many intended terrorists have been turned back at our borders.
We do know that every one of the 9/11 terrorists was an alien, and
that several of them were illegal aliens. And evidence of bad intentions
never ceases to appear. Last month an example appeared in the government’s
special green-card program for religious workers. The Boston Globe
– not exactly an anti-immigrant venue – obtained a copy
of Homeland Security’s hitherto secret study of the program. It
showed that one-third of visa applications were fraudulent, and
“instances of fraud were particularly high among applicants from
predominantly Muslim countries.” Clearly, it is not in the interest
of the people of the United States to permit unlimited immigration
of clerics from Arabia or unemployed young men from Egypt, no matter
how much money they bring with them. But under the principle of
open immigration, in they come.

In my experience,
proponents of open immigration rarely stay to listen to arguments
like the ones I’ve just tried to outline. If they do, they ordinarily
drop their own economic argument and turn to the moral argument
about human rights. So . . .

Let’s Talk
Human Rights

In a way,
it’s silly to argue against the “right” to immigrate. Very few open-borders
people actually believe in it. When questioned about who should
be allowed to take up residence here, they almost always say, “Oh,
everyone – everyone, that is, who will swear to support the
Constitution,” or “Everyone – everyone, that is, who is willing
to work for a living,” or even, with President Bush, “Everyone –
everyone, that is, who . . . who is a . . . who is a decent person
and . . . uh . . . wants, who wants to learn English.” Thus they
admit that the “right” to immigrate is no right at all.

My right to
freedom of speech is in no way contingent on the language I speak,
on my possession of a job, or on my willingness to give a political
oath. A right is absolute. It is conditioned by nothing. It depends
on no action of mine. It is endowed by my Creator. It is inalienable.
But advocates of the “right” to immigrate see this “right” as far
from absolute, unconditioned, or inalienable. They make it dependent
on something else. They call it a right, but they don’t believe
that it is one, any more than I do.

If you say
that any country in the world that wants to get rid of its convicts
and insane asylum inmates can send them to the United States, as
Cuba did in 1980, and the United States is morally obliged to take
them in, because they have a right to be here, then I will admit
that you are talking about people’s right to immigrate.

If you say
that you welcome the idea of a hundred thousand Wahhabi missionaries
being allowed to land in America, with no attempt to check or approve
them in any way, and with no regard to their political affiliations
or intentions, then I will admit that you are talking about people’s
right to immigrate.

If you say
that any nutball political or religious group has the right to import
its adherents, by the tens or hundreds of thousands, with the intention
of supporting them on public welfare until such time as they are
ready to bomb Wal-Marts all over Kansas and Missouri, then I will
admit that you believe in people’s right to immigrate.

But if you
say that you welcome the idea of ten million more unskilled laborers
arriving from Mexico, because that is their right, except that they
should not be permitted to live here unless they get a job, learn
English, and swear to support the Constitution, then you’re not
talking about a right at all. You’re just talking about something
that you want to happen.

So much, I
might conclude, for the issue of rights. Even the proponents of
immigration “rights” don’t really take them seriously. But why do
people think they do? That’s a more interesting question. In my
view, it’s because of an understandable confusion between the right
to immigrate and the right to emigrate.

How many times
have you heard somebody bewail the perfectly practical idea of building
a fence or “wall” along our frontiers? “It’s just like the Berlin
Wall!” they cry. Now, before you say, “That’s the silliest analogy
I’ve ever heard – the Berlin Wall was meant to keep people
in their own country, not out of somebody else’s!”,
you should grant the fact that immigration and emigration are, from
a purely factual or photographic point of view, the same thing.
Every act of immigration is necessarily an act of emigration. If
you took a picture of Osama bin Laden leaving Quebec, it would be
the same picture as one of Osama bin Laden entering New Hampshire.

But the philosophical
as well as the practical difference is immense. Jason quarrels with
Joanna and walks out of their house. Jason has a perfect right to
leave. But he does not have a right to leave for my house,
despite the fact that his leaving her and his coming to me are,
to all appearances, the same act. Someone’s right to leave East
Germany did not entail that person’s right to turn up in the United
States, Bulgaria, Burundi, or even West Germany. It was simply the
right to leave East Germany. If your house burns down, and I am
next door to you, you do not have a right to come and live
in my house. I may let you live there. More likely, I will let you
visit. This might be a good idea, but it’s up to me. It’s not your

Well . . .
but . . . is a nation really like a house? Can the people living
in a nation properly decide to keep other people out of it, as a
householder might decide to keep strangers out of his bungalow?
Yes it is, and yes they can.

A nation’s
laws and customs are the framework in which its people live their
lives. Life involves enormous investment of time and effort. It
requires a framework. It requires stability. It requires a certain
amount of predictability. It requires the ability to say, Well,
I will buy a home in Hillcrest – without worrying about the
possibility that Hillcrest may soon be overwhelmed by immigrants
from some Islamic country who decide to ban homosexuality, pork,
the Episcopal Church, and slacks on women.

Human life
also requires freedom as well as stability – and the more the
better, so far as I’m concerned. A real nation is not a prison;
but it isn’t a tent, either. It isn’t something that is constantly
being changed and moved. To build a decent house, to make sure that
it doesn’t collapse like a tent or constrain like a prison, requires
an even greater investment than the other projects of human life.
It requires an investment in cooperation, self-restraint, commitment
to constitutional order, long-continued belief in first principles.
A house whose door is always open, a house where everybody has the
right to enter, have a good meal, do a little work around the place,
and by virtue of his residence, or mere visitation, start remodeling
the structure, regardless of its original plan – that is no
longer a house. At best, it’s a squatters’ camp, where anything
may happen, as in the squatters’ camps that illegal immigrants have
erected all over the American Southwest, defying property owners
to do anything about it.

To the degree
that a nation is like a house, and requires the security of a house,
its inhabitants must have the ability to decide whom they wish to
invite inside, whom they wish to enjoy the many investments already
made in it. If the house is designed to protect individual liberty,
its maintenance requires the exclusion of people whose ill-advised
decisions might endanger liberty’s protective mechanisms.

No one has
the right to move to a free country and destroy its freedom. But
this is precisely what happens when people who are unused to the
political culture of individual liberty, or who disapprove of it,
swing the balance of national decisions.

Many libertarians
imagine that all economic and political problems will be solved
if only the proper economic and political framework is established:
free enterprise, limited government, clear recognition of individual
rights. But the question is, How can such a framework, such a “house,”
be preserved? It can’t be preserved if people must continually be
convinced, by the tens of millions, that liberty is a good idea,
better than the welfare state or some structure of political repression
and intolerance. It can be preserved only by a culture in which
the vast majority of people assume that individual liberty and responsibility
are the ultimate political good. Not every culture makes these assumptions.

There is no
foreign army occupying Mexico, Canada, or Saudi Arabia. The political
systems, the political errors, of these countries are the result
of their own political cultures, just as America’s political errors
result from its own political culture. An essentially libertarian
political system must be supported by essentially libertarian cultural
assumptions, by a culture in which virtually no one sees a cartoon
satirizing a religious figure and immediately concludes, “Somebody
should be punished for this.”

Yet that is
the automatic assumption of many, perhaps most, of the people in
this world. In most political cultures, practically no one assumes
that there is any difference between “what is right” and “what ought
to be enforced by law.” In most of the remaining cultures, a majority
of people assume that the welfare of individuals is the responsibility
of the state. Both sets of assumptions are inimical to a free society;
and while some immigrants from the cultures that harbor them come
to America in order to escape from them, the majority are inspired
by other reasons. The fact that they desire to possess the economic
benefits of America does not mean they appreciate the social conditions
that allow those benefits to exist, or that they will work to maintain

Consider the
following sequence of events: the employees of a state government
demand a raise, and the government refuses, claiming it is out of
money. How do the employees react? In one of this continent’s many
political cultures, they react by arming themselves with machetes
and other weapons, occupying the center of the capital city, seizing
government offices, blockading roads, burning buses, and doing everything
they can to prevent their opponents from demonstrating against them,
until such time as their demands are met. And the employees in question
are . . . schoolteachers! Bizarre? Yes, but that’s what happened
this summer in Oaxaca, Mexico. I’m sorry to be crass, but do you
want such teachers migrating to Los Angeles or Des Moines, where
they can teach both Spanish and revolutionary tactics?

It would not
be difficult for a few million representative citizens of, say,
the Arab countries to take up residence in the United States and
seriously disrupt or even destroy the American political economy.
The cost of immigration is now the lowest in history. For just a
few hundred dollars, you can get to the United States from any country
in the world. If you already have an uncle or a cousin in the States
– something that is very likely – you may find it easy
to take up residence and get a job. If not, welfare assistance will
not be hard to obtain; no one starves in America. And suppose that
you are, indeed, one of the great majority of immigrants who want
a job and work hard when they get it. What then? Does this mean
that the political and social attitudes to which you have been accustomed
will simply disappear? I don’t think that they will. I think you
will probably keep most of those attitudes. I think that the longer
you stay in America, the more self-confidence you gain, and the
more you and your children are exposed to modern multicultural propaganda,
the more likely you will be to insist that America conform to your
own cultural assumptions.

That happened
to some degree during the heyday of immigration to America in the
late 19th and early 20th centuries, which was also the heyday of
political bossism in American cities – and of the importation
of European socialist ideologies into American political life. And
those developments were benign, compared to the impact of current
immigration on today’s liberal cultures. America might learn a lesson
from the turmoil in Holland, where fewer than 10% of the population
is Islamic but where maiming and murder are the weapons of choice
of Islamic settlers convinced that a liberal society is their enemy,
and that they have the right to exploit and destroy it.

Ideally, immigration
to America would be restricted to people who understand and support
the American constitutional system and the American idea of limited
government. But such ideological monitoring is impossible. Most
native-born Americans have only a slender hold on the concept of
limited government (a good reason not to render the system even
more fragile by increasing the numbers of people like them). They
will never approve any useful test of ideological sympathies. An
oath to support the Constitution is useless. Every president takes
such an oath, and you see where that has led us.

The best we
can do is to admit immigrants sparingly, not by the tens of millions;
to judge their economic fitness by their skills and education, not
by their mere presence, and to be especially restrictive about immigration
from cultures that do not prepare people for life in a libertarian
society. Individual refugees from regions dominated by Islamic fundamentalists
should certainly be admitted, but it would be suicide to permit
any large or indiscriminate migration. Meanwhile, immigration of
professionals or other skilled workers from politically favorable
countries should be freed from the ridiculous bureaucratic processes
that currently torture and demean people who are trying to immigrate
legally, while unskilled illegals continue flooding in.

of Ourselves?

I know that
by this time, the patience of my friends on the other side of the
immigration debate has long been exhausted. Modern liberals are
gnashing their teeth over my attempt to deny them their best hope
of electoral victory, the support of millions of immigrant voters.
Economists are shaking their heads over the suggestion that anything
could possibly be bad about a cheap source of labor. Church people
are outraged by the inhuman suggestion that Americans need not welcome
every single person who wants to cross the border. Libertarian dogmatists
are demanding to know why I should call myself a libertarian.
And all these people are deploring the hypocrisy of suggesting that
“a nation of immigrants” could possibly refuse to admit unlimited
numbers of future immigrants.

Well, I’m
sorry; I’m not being hypocritical. I’m not saying that I have a
right to live in Mexico or France or Saudi Arabia, while denying
the right of Mexicans, Frenchmen, or Saudi Arabians to migrate here.
As for the “nation of immigrants” clich: what are we to deduce
from that? Every nation is a nation of immigrants. No nation sprang
spontaneously out of the soil it currently occupies. The fact that
your grandmother, or great-grandmother, or you yourself, originated
in some foreign clime . . . what exactly is this supposed to establish
– that there should be unlimited immigration for all time to
come? When I moved into my present neighborhood, the population
was scant and prices were low; that’s why I moved in. Then the population
increased, prices went up, and it became very difficult for people
like me to do what I did in 1986. Is that a moral problem? Should
I try to pass a law guaranteeing that people like me should always
be able to move in here?

Let’s talk
sense. The real problem is the price that must be paid for the immigration
policy I advocate. Part of the price is greater security at the
borders, less fraud-friendly driver’s licenses and Social Security
cards, and (imagine!) an expectation that public officials will
do what they are paid to do – enforce the law. But there is
a much heavier price. It is the denial of entrance into the United
States of people whose “crime” isn’t any defect of individual character
but simply their lack of job skills, or their origin in a culture
that is inimical to liberty. This is a bad thing, as bad (for example)
as the fate of the many young people who would fail to get a higher
education if, as libertarians suggest, education were privatized.
Ideas have consequences, not all of them good.

It doesn’t
please me to make that admission. Honesty compels it. Having made
it, I turn to my open-borders friends, hoping that they will admit
the unfavorable consequences of their own ideas. But if experience
is any guide, the response they are dying to make is this: “Don’t
you understand? None of the problems you mention are problems of
open immigration. They are all problems of the coercive
state. If there were no minimum wage laws, no labor laws, no
Social Security, no welfare programs, no affirmative action programs,
no progressive income tax, no government schools, no government
entitlements in general; if only people who possessed significant
property were allowed to vote; if the populace were fully determined
to support all constitutional guarantees of individual freedom;
then there would be no problem with immigration. No amount
of immigration could disrupt the constitutional order, and no one
would come and stay in this country if he weren’t contributing to
it economically.”

That’s what
libertarian political candidates and spokesmen for libertarian think-tanks
say when they’re questioned about the amount of tax money that unskilled
immigrants and their families take out of the economy because of
the welfare state that is now in place: “Certainly, these government
programs need to be reformed. But that has nothing to do with immigration.”
They make the same kind of response when they’re questioned about
the issue of political culture: “Certainly, there are some problems
with Mexico’s (or Nigeria’s, or Saudi Arabia’s) political culture.
But they’re for Mexico (or Nigeria, or Saudi Arabia) to solve. That
has nothing to do with immigration.”

When I hear
that, I wonder whether these intelligent people understand how foolish
they sound, or how much damage they do to the libertarian movement.
Interviewers ordinarily laugh them off as irrelevant – not
surprisingly, because their response has nothing to do with the
political, economic, and cultural problems that are evident to almost
everybody else. Does anyone believe that the vast array of government
interventions in society and the economy is about to vanish? Does
anyone believe that Social Security is about to go away, that the
public schools are about to become private, that property qualifications
are about to be instituted for voting? Yet action is being demanded
to open the gates of immigration now. And every day brings
us still more new immigrants, illegal but permanent, who will vote
to strengthen the very aspects of our political life that libertarians
want to change.

Pope once parodied authors who had no sense of reality, authors
who wrote things like:

Ye Gods!
annihilate but Space and Time,
And make two lovers happy.

The libertarian
equivalent would be:

Ye Gods!
annihilate but the facts of life,
And make our dogmas triumph.

But mere dogmas
won’t triumph. And they won’t help the cause of liberty. It’s time
to stop believing that they will.

article is reprinted with permission from the October 2006 issue
of Liberty. Send
editorial comments to
All letters to the editor are assumed to be for publication unless
otherwise indicated.

14, 2006

Stephen Cox is editor of Liberty and a Professor of Literature at
the University of California, San Diego. He is the author of The
Woman and the Dynamo: Isabel Paterson and the Idea of America

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